November 19, 2010

Europe Approves Next Generation Weather Satellites

A contract has been signed that will allow the work to start on a new generation of weather satellites for Europe.

Six satellites will be built to help forecasters receive up-to-the-minute data on developing weather systems.

Governments in 2008 approved the R&D phase of the program, but political wrangling helped to delay its creation.

Thales Alenia Space (France) and OHB System (Germany) have now been told they can proceed with the work.

A contract initiating the detailed design of the spacecraft was signed between the companies and the European Space Agency (ESA), which will oversee the technical aspects of the program.

Eumetsat will operate the platforms when they get into orbit, which is scheduled to take place in 2018.  Eumetsat is the international agency charged with looking after Europe's Meteosats.

"We are extremely happy and proud to meet the challenge of building the most ambitious geostationary satellites ever developed in Europe, and thank ESA and Eumetsat for their confidence," Reynald Seznec, president and CEO of Thales Alenia Space (TAS), said in a statement.

The initial contract covers about six months worth of work, in which the consortium will establish its full team.

A full contract with ESA will start in the middle of next year.

The MTG will be comprised of four imaging satellites and two sounding satellites.  They will launch in phase to maintain coverage through about 2040.

The new spacecraft will be unlike the generation they are replacing.  The second generation satellites (MSG) are spin-stabilized and build up their images as they rotate across the field of view.

The MTG spacecraft will look more like standard telecommunications platforms as they will sit and stare at the Earth.

Their images will be much higher resolution and will come down in a fraction of the time, compared to the MSG satellites.

The Meteosat series stretches back to 1977.  Two platforms currently provide the space data on which daily weather forecasts for Europe depend.

The MTG will cost $4.6 billion, with $3.2 billion expected to come from Eumetsat member states and the remainder from ESA member states.

Eumetsat will hold a council meeting at the end of November to try and approve its part of the program.

Eumetsat has been waiting for arguments over the workshare in the satellite contract to be settled.  However, all major Eumetsat nations have indicated they will wave the project through now that the situation is resolved.

Some doubts still remain over the contributions of a number of smaller nations because of the economic crisis.  Some say they need more time to organize their funds.

TAS said the consortium would have the first imaging MTG satellite ready for launch by 2017 and the first sounder ready by the spring of 2019. 

The manufacturing of the other spacecraft will take place from 2018 to 2021.


Image Caption: Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) imager and sounder satellites. The space segment will include four MTG-I imaging and two MTG-S sounding satellites. Credits: ESA /P. Carril


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