Before Europe’s first third-generation Meteosat imager leaves the south of France at the end of the month on board a ship bound for French Guiana, this remarkable new weather satellite takes center stage at the facilities of Thales Alenia Space in Cannes.
The satellite is in its very final stages of verification and preparation for shipment to Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
The ship, which carries the Meteosat Third Generation Imager-1 (MTG-I1) satellite, will depart from Fos-sur-Mer near Marseille on September 28. Once safely in Kourou, final preparations for take-off will take approximately seven weeks.
Prior to its three-week journey across the Atlantic Ocean, MTG-I1 was displayed in the clean room of Thales Alenia Space, the mission prime contractor.
Paul Blythe, ESA’s Meteosat Program Manager, said: “It’s great to see the first of the third generation Meteosat family of satellites almost ready to ship and it’s thanks to the many people who have worked so hard to reach this point.
From geostationary orbit, this new satellite, equipped with two highly sensitive new instruments – a Flexible Combo Imager and a Lightning Imager – is ready to take weather forecasting to the next level.
Hervé Roquet, head of research and development at Météo-France, said: “We are extremely enthusiastic about the MTG mission. It will allow us to take a big step forward in improving the forecasting of severe weather phenomena. For example, by using MTG data, we will be able to forecast storms several hours in advance, which is essential for issuing warnings for civil security.
The complete MTG system will span over 20 years and will therefore consist of six satellites, four MTG-I and two sounder satellites, MTG-S.
The full mission will include two MTG-I satellites and one MTG-S satellite working in tandem. The remaining satellites will eventually replace those of the first series.
In full operation, one of the MTG-I satellites scans the entire Earth’s disk, including Europe and Africa, every 10 minutes, while the other provides local coverage, for example by only covering than Europe but 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.
As climate change brings more frequent and severe weather events, accurate and timely weather forecasts and nowcasts are more important than ever.
The new generation of weather satellites will offer a significant improvement over the current imaging capabilities provided by Meteosat Second Generation, real-time lightning imagery and an all-new infrared sounding capability for early detection of severe thunderstorms.
The full MTG configuration is expected to produce at least 50 times more data than current second-generation Meteosat geostationary satellites and deliver that data faster. In addition, this data will have a much higher resolution than that available today.
MTG-I’s flexible combination imager, for example, has more spectral channels and higher resolution images than Meteosat Second Generation’s Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared instrument.
MTG-I’s Lightning Imager provides an entirely new capability for European weather satellites. It will continuously monitor over 80% of the Earth’s disk for lightning discharges, occurring either between clouds or between clouds and the ground. Its detectors are so sensitive that they will be able to detect relatively weak lightning, even in broad daylight.
Carlo Simoncelli, MTG Lightning Imager Program Manager at Leonardo Space, explained: “The recipe for the Lightning Imager relies heavily on ‘good eyes’ because we need excellent optics to detect even very small signals. lightning and “good brains” because we need something approaching artificial intelligence that adapts how it detects lightning based on different scenarios.
“The Lightning Imager is able to detect lightning signals that last as little as 6 milliseconds – and at a distance that’s equivalent to watching your favorite program 3 kilometers from your TV.”
With shipment to the launch site in a few weeks, MTG-I1 will soon be carefully and securely packed into its shipping container.
Pierre Armand, MTG Program Manager at Thales Alenia Space, said: “As prime contractor, Thales Alenia Space led 100 companies and involved more than 200 contracts in the construction of MTG-I1. Of course, we had to adapt our way of working due to the Covid pandemic, which was difficult. I am incredibly proud that everyone has worked so hard during these difficult times to get to where we are today and now we see the satellite almost ready to be shipped to the launch site.
“There is still work to be done at Kourou but we are certainly ready for this final step and eager to see it lift off to begin its task in orbit.”
The MTG mission 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 and delivery of data to users.
Alexander Schmid, MTG Program Manager at Eumetsat, said: “We are delighted to have MTG-I1 shipped and launched, and then Eumetsat will take over operations, test and commission it over the next next year and releases the data for users.
“We have been working with the user community for several years to help them prepare for new MTG data. This involved running special simulation campaigns and providing them with test data to get their systems ready – all to improve weather forecasting for the benefit of the public.