Tonight – the night of August 27/28 – shortly before midnight, a massive Ariane 5 rocket will blast off from the European launch site in French Guyana.

The rocket will carry the first of the Next Generation of European Geostationary weather satellites, Meteosat Second Generation (MSG), which will monitor our weather by producing images of the Western hemisphere every 15 minutes. These images are used by weather forecasters as important sources of information about clouds and the surface temperature of the Earth.

The payload also includes equipment produced at the University of Leicester, taking Leicester equipment into geostationary orbit for the first time, more than 20,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, hovering above the equator at the Greenwich meridian. Although University of Leicester space hardware has travelled deeper into space than that before, this is the first time that Leicester has provided equipment for an operational weather satellite.

The equipment from Leicester is part of a scientific instrument, the Geostationary Earth Radiation Budget (GERB) experiment. This instrument is designed to make precise measurements of the incoming and outgoing heat energy from the Earth, thereby providing new insight into the processes by which the planet Earth is being heated and cooled. This is obviously a vitally important topic, as concerns grow about global warming and its related effects.

For GERB, scientists and engineers at the University of Leicester Space Research Centre produced the all-important detector package – the “eyes” of the instrument.

Professor David Llewellyn-Jones, Professor of Earth Observation Science at the University of Leicester, said: “Producing these detectors was a major challenge as there are 256 sensitive elements to the detector, each of which has to be carefully calibrated and characterised. Data has to be simultaneously collected, amplified and processed for each of the 256 elements, 256 times during every two and a half minute period.

“This process generates very large volumes of data which has to be collected and sent back to Earth. All this is done from a spinning satellite – MSG will rotate at 100 revolutions per minute in order to scan the entire Earth disc. As a result, GERB, mounted at the edge of the satellite’s body, will experience forces of 18 times its normal weight on Earth!”

MSG is the first of an operational series of satellites, built by the European Space Agency (ESA) for the European organisation for the exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT). The UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has funded the first GERB experiment. The GERB instrument was developed and built at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. EUMETSAT’s plans are well advanced for the next three satellites in the MSG series and it is probable that a succession of the GERB detectors from Leicester will be working in geostationary orbit until the 2020s.

The University of Leicester houses one of the biggest space research centres in Europe and is a co-founder of the £52 million National Space Centre Landmark Millennium project in Leicester.


Notes for editor

A talk on the satellite and Leicester’s involvement in the project will be given at the National Space Centre on Friday August 30. For more info, please contact the National Space Centre on 0116 261 0261.

For further information contact Professor Llewellyn-Jones on 0116 252 5238