Operations centers listening to the next weather satellite


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In just a few months, Europe’s first third-generation Meteosat satellite will soar into the sky aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. From geostationary orbit, this new satellite, carrying two new highly sensitive instruments, will take weather forecasting to a new level. In taking a major step towards launch, satellite operations teams from two different centers performed a series of very important tests to ensure that their procedures are fully compatible with the satellite.

These final tests, known as system validation tests, involved both Telespazio’s control center in Fucino, Italy and Eumetsat’s mission operations center in Darmstadt, Germany.

Telespazio is responsible for the launch and early orbit phase of the satellite, which covers the period from separation from the rocket to arrival in geostationary orbit. This phase lasts about ten days and includes four burns of the satellite’s liquid apogee engine and the deployment of the solar arrays and communication antennas.

Eumetsat is responsible for commissioning, routine in-orbit operations and the provision of satellite data to national meteorological services and other users.

Scheduled for launch at the end of November, the first Meteosat Third Generation Imager satellite, MTG-I1, carries a Flexible Combined Imager and a Lightning Imager.

Third generation meteosat

To meet the 20-plus-year operational lifetime of the mission, the complete MTG system comprises six satellites, four MTG-I and two sounder satellites, MTG-S.

The two MTG-I satellites will operate in tandem – one scanning the entire Earth’s disk, including Europe and Africa, every 10 minutes, while the other will provide local coverage, for example covering only than Europe, with a faster repeat cycle.

The single MTG-S satellite will also provide local coverage over parts of the Earth, with a repeat cycle of typically five minutes.

Right now, everything is in motion to put the first of these satellites, MTG-I1, into orbit.

The recent validation tests of the system required two weeks of work in double shifts at the control centers of Telespazio and Eumetsat. The respective centers performed key operational procedures for both routine satellite commands and emergency recoveries to demonstrate the compatibility of the control centers with the MTG-I1 satellite.

More than 350 different procedures were exercised during the campaign, for which examination and testing against the MTG-I complex satellite simulator has been underway since the beginning of the year.

Ultimately, thanks to the close cooperation between all parties – including ESA, Eumetsat, Telespazio and the MTG industrial support team from Thales, OHB and Leonardo – the overall system validation test campaign has was successfully completed on time.

This means that the MTG-I1 satellite can be released for final testing before shipping to the launch site in French Guiana.

Telespazio Control Center

After the completion of this important, tired but happy milestone, Angela Birtwhistle, Head of ESA Operational Activities Coordination, spoke of a job well done: “After a long and intense preparation phase for the final validation tests of the system for MTG-I1, requiring the commitment and hard work of so many people from all organizations, it has been very rewarding to reach this milestone.

“It is so important to the successful launch and operations of MTG-I1 – and was carried out in an extremely cooperative and collaborative atmosphere.”

After a short break, the next major activity for the operations teams is the participation in several weeks of simulation campaigns, both for the launch and start-of-orbit phase and for routine operations. Again, routine and emergency operations will be exercised, this time against the satellite simulator.

This activity will be spiced up by the simulations agent introducing several unexpected failures with the operations support team supposed to spring into action and rectify the situation.

In parallel, the satellite will complete its tests in Europe, the main element of which concerns the final electromagnetic and radio frequency compatibility tests at Thales Alenia Space’s facilities in Cannes, France.

Packing and shipping will follow, by boat, to Kourou, French Guiana, at the end of September.

Once safely in Kourou, final preparations for take-off will take approximately seven weeks. The launch is scheduled for the end of November.

The thorough and rigorous preparation work of the operations support team will then prove its worth when the separation of the satellite from the Ariane 5 rocket takes place and the early orbit activities of MTG-I1 begin in earnest.

MTG is a cooperation between ESA and Eumetsat. ESA is responsible for defining and implementing the MTG satellites and recurring hardware procurement, while Eumetsat is in charge of operating the spacecraft throughout its lifetime . The MTG satellites will replace the current operational Meteosat Second Generation system.


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