European wind survey satellite launched from French Guyana

The ADM-Aeolus mission will not only advance our understanding of atmospheric dynamics, but will also provide much-needed information to improve weather forecasts. The satellite carries the first wind lidar in space, which can probe the lowermost 30 km of the atmosphere to provide profiles of wind, aerosols and clouds along the satellite’s orbital path. The laser system emits short powerful pulses of ultraviolet light down into the atmosphere. The telescope collects the light that is backscattered from air molecules, particles of dust and droplets of water. The receiver analyses the Doppler shift of the backscattered signal to determine the speed and direction of the wind at various altitudes below the satellite. These near-realtime observations will improve the accuracy of numerical weather and climate prediction and advance our understanding of atmospheric dynamics and processes relevant to climate variability. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

Europe launched a rocket from French Guyana on Wednesday, to put a satellite into orbit which will track global winds, allowing for improved weather forecasting, Arianespace said.

The launch took place at 2120 GMT after a 24-hour delay due to adverse weather conditions. The flight was scheduled at just under 55 minutes from liftoff to separation of the satellite.

The “Aeolus” satellite—named after the guardian of in Greek mythology—will be placed at an altitude of 320 kilometres (200 miles) above the Earth.

It is part of the Copernicus project, a joint initiative of the European Union and the European Space Agency (ESA) to track environmental damage and aid disaster relief operations.

Aeolus is equipped with a single instrument: a Doppler wind lidar—an advanced laser system designed to accurately measure global wind patterns from space.

“This mission will thus provide much-needed data to improve the quality of weather forecasting as well as contributing to long-term climate research,” Arianespace said in its website.

It described the satellite as the world’s first space mission to acquire profiles of Earth’s wind on a global scale.

Tropical winds in particular are very poorly mapped because of the almost complete absence of direct observations.

ESA’s Aeolus satellite carries the Atmospheric Laser Doppler Instrument (Aladin) – one of the most sophisticated instruments ever to be put into orbit. The first of its kind, Aladin includes revolutionary laser technology to generate pulses of ultraviolet light that are beamed down into the atmosphere to profile the world’s winds – a completely new approach to measuring the wind from space. This animation offers a glimpse into the satellite’s inner workings. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

The Doppler lidar transmits short, powerful pulses of laser light toward Earth in the ultraviolet spectrum. Particles in the air—moisture, dust, gases—scatter a small fraction of that light energy back to the transceiver, where it is collected and recorded.

The delay between the outgoing pulse and the so-called “backscattered” signal reveals the wind’s direction, speed and distance travelled.

Once per orbit, data is downloaded to a ground station in Svalbard, Norway.

Aeolus is the fifth of the ESA’s planned Earth Explorer missions.

Others already completed or in operation have measured Earth’s gravity and geomagnetic fields, soil moisture, ocean salinity and frozen expanses collectively known as the cryosphere.

The new mission is also Arianespace’s 50th launch for the European Space Agency.

Explore further:
First satellite to measure global winds set for launch

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