Tim Furniss/LONDON

The European Space Agency (ESA) already has its eyes fixed firmly on the next weather satellite programme, even though a structural and thermal model of the first satellite in the present programme has only just been unveiled. The model, for the Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) programme (see box), was revealed at the European Space Research and Technology Centre in the Netherlands on 24 March.

Called the Meteorological Operational Polar Orbiting Programme (METOP), the venture has been controversial. European meteorological satellite organisation Eumetsat - which took control of the Meteosat satellite system in December 1995 - will operate the METOP craft as part of the Eumetsat Polar System (EPS). Eumetsat has been late in committing money to kick start the project, however.

Agreement has been reached that the 14 member states of ESA will provide $98 million and Eumetsat $27 million to allow industrial development of METOP to begin. ESA will thus partially fund METOP 1 and some of the instruments. It is anticipated that, by September, the 17 member state Eumetsat Council will release full funding for the programme.

The METOP 1 prototype satellite will be launched in 2003. Two fully operational spacecraft will will work with ESA, the French space agency (CNES) and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The METOP satellites will complement the Meteosat geostationary satellite system developed by ESA and operated by Eumetsat. They will be launched into 840km circular Sun-synchronous orbits. They will weigh 4,813kg, including 919kg in instruments. The craft will join the NOAA polar orbiting craft, now the sole source of meteorological data from this orbit, in an international weather watch.


Part of the METOP payload will be identical to that carried on the NOAAs. Instruments unique to Europe, however, will produce high resolution images and vertical temperature and humidity profiles and monitor temperatures of the land and ocean surface. The METOPs will also carry a series of ozone and windflow monitoring instruments, an advanced visible/ infrared high resolution radiometer, a high resolution infrared temperature sounder, an advanced microwave sounder unit, a microwave humidity sounder, an Argos data collection/ emergency location system, an infrared atmospheric sounding interferometer, an advanced wind scatterometer, a global ozone monitoring experiment and a global navigation satellite system receiver for atmospheric sounding.

Matra Marconi Space (MMS), with Daimler-Benz Aerospace Dornier Satelliten System s its main subcontractor, has started work on the METOP. It will include a service module based on the multi-mission platform developed by CNES and MMS for the civil and military Spot and Helios Earth observation craft.



The meteosat series of satellites will be launched and operated under Eumetsat authority. They are being developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and European industry, led by prime contractor Aerospatiale, at a total cost of $654 million. The MSG1 will be launched in 2000, followed by the MSG2 in 2002 and the MSG3 in 2007. The Meteosat 1 ceased operating in 1985.

The Meteosat 2 was launched in 1981 and No 3 in 1988. Meteosat 4 was the first Meteosat operational programme, launched in 1989 and was followed by Meteosats 5 and 6 in 1994 and 1997.

The MSGs will follow the Meteosat first generation fleet, developed by ESA. These began operating with Meteosat 1 in November 1977, and a further six have been launched since.

The MSGs will be spin-stabilised craft such as the Meteosats. At 2,000kg, however, they will be twice as heavy. They will incorporate many design improvements, including an advanced radiometer called the spinning enhanced visible and infrared imager. This radiometer will provide better imagery and will also allow instant atmospheric sounding for very short term forecasting.

A new weather image will be provided every 15min in 12 channels of the visible and infrared spectrum, instead of every 30min in three channels on the current Meteosat series. ESA says that, with enhanced dissemination, this "-will result in a dramatic increase in capabilities for monitoring weather patterns and for the prediction and warning of storms and other potentially hazardous natural phenomena".

The MSG will also carry a search and rescue transponder, and the MSG 1 will carry a new experiment called the Geostationary Earth Radiation Budget. This will be provided on a national funding basis by a consortium led by the UK, and including Belgium and Italy.

The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the UK Natural Environment Research Council and the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine are leading this effort. The experiment will enable the tracking of water vapour and cloud, two of the most important and poorly understood feedback processes in climate prediction.

Source: Flight International