Europe’s first polar-orbiting meteorological satellite, Metop-1, is scheduled to be shipped to the Russian-run Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan April 17 where it will be integrated into a Soyuz launch vehicle with a newly designed payload fairing. The launch is scheduled for June 30.

Three nearly identical Metop satellites are being built here by EADS Astrium. The satellites are part of a 14-year operational meteorological program managed by the 19-nation Eumetsat organization of Darmstadt, Germany, in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA).

The three Metop satellites, their launch, ground network and 14 years of operations have been budgeted at 2.4 billion euros ($2.9 billion), with ESA’s contribution equivalent to about 23 percent of the total.

Metop includes 12 instruments, including several funded by ESA and the French space agency, CNES, and by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Eumetsat and NOAA will be furnishing complementary satellite systems, with Eumetsat’s Metop spacecraft responsible for the “morning orbit” — it passes the equator mid-morning each day — and NOAA handling the afternoon orbit.

Up to now, NOAA has managed both polar orbits as part of a global system of meteorological observation that includes satellites in polar low Earth orbit and geostationary orbit.

The first satellite launched as part of the Eumetsat-NOAA Initial Joint Polar System was the NOAA-18 satellite, which was launched in May 2005. NOAA-18 includes the Microwave Humidity Sounder instrument provided by Eumetsat.

EADS Astrium is prime contractor for the three Metop satellites, which are finishing their integration at the company’s production site here. The second and third Metop spacecraft are being readied for launches in 2010 and 2014, assuming all goes well with the first model.

Jean-Paul Gardelle, EADS Astrium Metop program manager, said one of the trickiest aspects in designing the satellite was calibrating the radio frequencies so that the 18 on board antennas and the radar scatterometer ocean-wind measuring instrument do not interfere with each other.

“This is one area where the design complexity was very high,” Gardelle said here March 21 during a series of Metop presentations.

Metop-1 is expected to weigh about 4,100 kilograms at launch .

Its skeletal structure, or platform, is based on the hardware used in 11 other Earth observation satellites, including the French Spot civilian and Helios military optical satellites, and ESA’s ERS and Envisat radar spacecraft.

In stowed position, Metop is 6.3 meters tall and 2.5 meters wide, dimensions that required a new Soyuz fairing design that will see its first use during the Metop launch. The fairing subsequently will be used for Soyuz commercial launches from Europe’s Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

Metop carries an on board recorder capable of storing 24 gigabytes of data, equivalent to slightly more than what it is expected to collect in a single 100-minute orbit. It will send the information in the X-band frequency to ground antennas located on Norway’s Svalbard Island at 78 degrees north latitude, a location that is within line of sight of all 14 Metop daily orbits from its location at about 820 kilometers in altitude.

For customers who need near-real-time weather data, Metop will be sending L-band transmissions during its orbit. This data is encrypted as part of Eumetsat’s established data-distribution policy.

Marc Cohen, Eumetsat program manager or polar satellites, said data sent to the Svalbard ground station will be transmitted to Eumetsat’s Darmstadt, Germany, headquarters within 135 minutes of its being imaged. It is distributed via the Internet and also via transmissions from a commercial telecommunications satellite.