World’s first global wind satellite moves step closer to launch

A UK-built advanced European Space Agency climate satellite will move a step closer to launch this week when it is shipped to France for final testing.

Developed in Stevenage by Airbus Defence and Space, the Aeolus satellite will be used to measure wind speeds at multiple levels in the Earth’s atmosphere and is expected to lead to significant improvements in numerical weather forecasts.

Aeolus has been built at Airbus Defence and Space’s Stevenage site

The main payload on the 1.7-tonne spacecraft, which will be launched on a Vega rocket towards the end of 2017, is a LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) instrument called Aladin, which uses the Doppler effect to determine the wind speed at varying altitudes.

Designed by Airbus Defence and Space engineers in France, Aladin – which has been described by ESA as one of the trickiest pieces of space technology ever developed –  will be the first wind lidar to be used in space.

The satellite will profile the world’s wind. Image: ESA

Incorporating two powerful lasers, a large telescope and extremely sensitive receivers, the system will work by firing a powerful ultraviolet laser pulse down through the atmosphere and collecting the backscattered light using the 1.5m diameter telescope. This will then be analysed on-board by highly sensitive receivers to determine the Doppler shift of the signal from layers at different heights in the atmosphere.

The near-realtime data collected by the satellite will provide reliable wind-profile data on a global scale and help meteorologists improve the accuracy of weather forecasts.

Commenting on the spacecraft’s capabilities Beth Greenaway, head of Earth Observation at the UK Space Agency, said: ”These observations will advance our understanding of tropical dynamics and processes relevant to climate variability. Accurate wind forecasts are also vital for commercial undertakings such as farming, fishing, construction and transport.”

Aeolus will fly in a 320km orbit and have a lifetime of three years

The Aladin instrument. Image: ESA