Airbus readies weather satellite Aeolus for launch

  • 18/01/2017

Unreliable weather forecasts may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to a British-built weather satellite which users lasers to measure wind.

The Aeolus satellite will map the Earth's atmosphere like no previous scientific instrument has done before.

"It'll directly and continuously measure our planet's winds, for the very first time," says Dr Ralph Cordey, head of Earth observation at Airbus.

Dr Cordey says Aeolus has the ability to accurately model wind patterns up to four days in advance.

In Britain, flooding often occurs when storms from the tropics are blown northwards. When the humid air makes landfall it can cause devastating, torrential rain - like it did in December 2015.

The floods cut power to more than 7000 homes across north England, and swollen rivers swept away bridges and railway lines.

How will Aeolus work?

  • The satellite will fire short, powerful laser pulses into the atmosphere
  • The light bounces off air molecules, dust and water, and is reflected back into the telescope
  • The information is used to measure wind speed and direction at different heights.

The satellite's mission will last for three years, during which time it will orbit the Earth 17,500 times.

It will collect more data in one week than has ever been recorded about the Earth's winds.

Forecasters say it will be valuable for predicting weather patterns more accurately.

"When we see climate change, we may not realise that our whole circulation pattern might change - where rain and hot weather comes from, [and] how often," says Professor John Remedios, director of the UK's National Centre for Earth Observation.

"By observing the circulation globally, we can look for patterns of how that will change."

Aeolus is about to enter its final phase of tests and should ready to take off and begin its mission by the end of 2017.