UK teams to develop satellite systems for observing Earth

Teams of scientists and engineers have been awarded contracts worth more than £500,000 to develop new satellite technologies for observing the Earth from space.  

The Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation (CEOI), with funding from the UK Space Agency, has awarded contracts to eight industrial and academic teams around the UK.

According to a statement, the two largest projects will involve the development of technologies for measuring the make-up of the Earth’s atmosphere, providing data for use by climatologists and for the next generation of weather-forecasting satellites.

The first will be led by RAL Space, part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, and the second by Astrium.

RAL Space will test novel instrument technology that will be used to measure the effect on the climate of biomass burning and industrial pollution.

The tests will also check that the technology can survive the severe vibration that it will experience during launch and that it will continue to work properly at both the extreme temperatures and vacuum of space.

Astrium will lead a team — including JCR Systems, RAL Space and Systems Engineering & Assessment — that will develop instrument technologies designed to improve numerical weather forecasting by monitoring natural microwave emissions from precipitation, cloud ice and water vapour in the atmosphere and sea surface parameters such as temperature, wind and sea ice.

The measurements are expected to improve the accuracy of the computer modelling carried out by meteorologists for weather forecasting and is also important for oceanography and climate prediction.

Another climate-related project will help to measure the amount of carbon dioxide extracted from the atmosphere by trees and stored in forests.  

Heriot-Watt University will look at how a space-based laser, using multiple wavelengths or colours, can be used to make global measurements of forests, including looking for changes occurring as a result of large-scale fires and deforestation.

Five other projects will help to develop seedcorn ideas for future space missions.