Soyuz Rocket Launches European Weather Satellite Into Orbit
September 17, 2012

Soyuz Rocket Launches European Weather Satellite Into Orbit

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

A European weather satellite was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan today (Sept. 17) at 10:29 p.m. local time (12:29 p.m. EDT) aboard a Russian Soyuz 2.1a rocket, according to Russia´s space agency Roscosmos. The MetOp-B satellite will be used to acquire data critical for weather forecasters.

The flight into orbit lasted just over an hour and went off without a hitch. MetOp-B will ensure there remains a continuity of weather observations following MetOp-A, which was launched in 2006. MetOp-A´s data is the single largest source of information contributed to the accuracy of one-day forecasting.

“Now, you could not imagine predicting the weather without satellites,” said Dr Alain Ratier, the director general of Eumetsat, the intergovernmental organization charged with running Europe's weather platforms. “Based on scientific studies run by the main met services in Europe, it can be shown that 25% of the performance of 24-hour forecasts can be explained by the input data of the Metop class,” he told Jonathan Amos of BBC News.

MetOp-B will fly around the globe in tandem with MetOp-A. Their formation operation will enable their observation to be cross-calibrated. This will also ensure that scientists are getting the highest quality data. However, MetOp-A is operating well beyond its designed lifetime, and could fail at any time. MetOp-B carries the same instruments as its predecessor.

The satellites´ sensors look down through the different layers of the atmosphere to record a wide variety of variables, including measurements of temperature and humidity, cloud properties, and gases such as ozone, co2, methane and nitrogen dioxide. MetOp also monitors sea surface temperatures, snow and ice cover, and land vegetation. It can even observe fire and volcanic ash in the atmosphere.

The MetOp data complements that from weather balloons, surface stations and airplanes, and is run in coalition with American satellites, such as the polar-orbiting weather satellites. Data from these systems are fed into numerical models that produce reliable weather forecasts several hours to several days ahead of time.

With MetOp, however, forecasters are given an even better forecasting tool, improving on previous satellites.

“The forecasts have improved tremendously over the past decades,” said Dr Florence Rabier from the numerical weather prediction group at Meteo France. “We say that we gain in predictability about a day per decade, which means that every decade the four-day forecast is now as accurate as the three-day forecast was 10 years ago.”

A third satellite in the group, MetOp-C, has been built and is in store, ready to fly. No decision has been made on when that satellite will be launched, but will be made later this decade.