U.S.-China Meterological Network Mirrors European Model

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  Space News Business

U.S.-China Meterological Network Mirrors European Model

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 07 December 2006
01:53 pm ET


BONN, Germany — The Chinese and U.S. governments are adopting a European system that uses commercial telecommunications satellites to transmit weather and other environmental data to users equipped for the most part with small satellite dishes like those used to receive satellite television signals.

The decision by the Chinese Meteorological Administration (CMA) and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to adopt Europe’s Eumetcast broadcast model will give global reach to what began as a result of a European satellite failure.

CMA and NOAA officials announced their plans here Nov. 28 during a plenary of the 66-nation Group on Earth observations.

China will take responsibility for providing communications satellites over Asia, expanding the reach of its existing FengyunCast system. Representing the U.S. Group on Earth Observations, NOAA will provide similar capacity over North and South America. The global network, called Geonetcast, should be operational starting in late 2007.

Europe’s weather-satellite organization, Eumetsat, was forced to abandon its previous meteorological data dissemination method when its Meteosat 8 weather satellite’s rebroadcast function — its ability to retransmit data once it has been processed on the ground — malfunctioned in orbit just after launch in August 2002.

Scrambling to find a substitute, Eumetsat decided to lease small amounts of commercial telecommunications satellite capacity to retransmit the data in Ku-band to its customers via the Eutelsat Hot Bird 6 satellite.

Eumetcast requires that users purchase new satellite-reception equipment, typically no more than a $1,500 investment, and also requires an out-of-pocket expenditure for commercial satellite capacity, which Eumetsat Director-General Lars Prahm said is no more than several-hundred-thousand dollars per year.

The switch to what became Eumetcast permitted the organization to send larger amounts of data at faster rates to a much larger population of users.

Eumetsat and the 25-nation European Union later extended Eumetcast by financing data-reception equipment in Africa, using C-band capacity leased aboard Eutelsat’s Atlantic Bird 3 satellite. More recently, it has leased capacity on the SES New Skies NSS-806 satellite to bring portions of South America into the Eumetcast coverage, also in C-band. C-band requires much larger dishes but in some areas is the preferred reception bandwidth because of heavy rains that on occasion can degrade Ku-band signals.

Prahm said here Nov. 28 that in the four years since it was introduced, Eumetcast has grown to include 2,000 receiving stations owned by about 1,600 subscribers in Europe, Africa and South America.

China has been assembling its own regional system, called FengYunCast, using Ku-band capacity on the Asiasat 2 telecommunications satellite. Zheng Guoguang, CMA’s deputy administrator, said China spends roughly $300,000 per year leasing satellite capacity to broadcast data from Chinese FengYun-1 series weather satellites in polar orbit and FengYun-2 satellites in geostationary orbit, as well as data from ground sensors.

China has agreed to lease additional C-band satellite capacity to extend the system’s reach as far west as Pakistan and east as far as New Zealand, Zheng said. He said the current system, which provides a broad range of environmental data in China and seven other nations in Asia, now is beamed to 117 customers.

In addition to its own satellites, the Chinese FengYunCast service incorporates data from the U.S. NOAA 16, NOAA 17, NOAA 18, Terra and Aqua satellites.

NOAA for years has been using its meteorological satellites themselves to rebroadcast data, using a procedure similar to the one used by Eumetsat before the forced switch in 2003.

NOAA Administrator Conrad C. Lautenbacher said the nearly two-dozen agencies that are responsible for producing and processing environmental data in the United States have agreed to adopt Geonetcast, with an initial operating capability planned using yet-unselected telecommunications satellites starting in late 2007.

Russian government officials attending the GEO plenary meeting here said Russia’s Mitro system, which transmits meteorological and environmental data through Russian Yamal and Express telecommunications satellites, is likely to join Geonetcast.

A Russian official said Mitro, which in its current form entered operations in 2005, has about 100 customers in Russia.

Geonetcast eventually will feature Internet transmissions in addition to direct satellite delivery to user terminals, but officials said it remains the case that in many developing nations, Internet access is insufficient to assure the 24-hour distribution of data that Geonetcast guarantees.

Prahm said the creation of Geonetcast was made easier because U.S., Chinese and European officials coordinated their efforts through GEO, which was created in 2005 and has a 10-year mission to create a globally coordinated system for collecting, digesting and distributing environmental data. GEO is headed by Jose Achache, former director of the European Space Agency’s Earth observation program.

GEO, which began with a summit in Washington in 2003, recently expanded its membership to 66 nations and 43 international organizations.