Airbus Stevenage: Wind-sensing laser satellite launches into space

The wind-sensing satellite - built in Stevenage - was successfully launched Kourou in French Guiana

The wind-sensing satellite - built in Stevenage - was successfully launched Kourou in French Guiana on Wednesday. Picture: ESA - Credit: Archant

A “revolutionary” wind-sensing satellite built in Stevenage has been successfully launched into space from South America.

Laser satellite Aeolus, which is owned by the European Space Agency and was built by Airbus Defence and Space in Gunnels Wood Road was launched from Kourou in French Guiana on Wednesday after a 24-hour delay.

Staff at the site in Stevenage had a party to celebrate the launch, as it took off.

The model will now undergo a series of tests in its operational orbit at 320km before beginning its work.

Aeolus is the first satellite capable of performing global wind-component-profile observation on a daily basis in near real-time.

The 1.4-tonne spacecraft features a LIDAR – Light Detection And Ranging – instrument called Aladin, which uses the Doppler effect to determine the wind speed at varying altitudes.

Aladin fires a powerful ultraviolet laser pulse down through the atmosphere and collects backscattered light, using a large 1.5m diameter telescope, which is then analysed on-board by highly sensitive receivers to determine the Doppler shift of the signal from layers at different heights in the atmosphere.

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The data from Aeolus will provide reliable wind-profile data on a global scale and is needed by meteorologists to further improve the accuracy of weather forecasts and by climatologists to better understand the global dynamics of Earth’s atmosphere.

Nicolas Chamussy, head of space systems at Airbus, said: “Aeolus is another first for Airbus, delivering a revolutionary Earth observation satellite that will give wind profile data in near real-time, improving weather forecasting and helping to bring the benefits of space down to every citizen on Earth.”

Aeolus will orbit the Earth 15 times a day with data delivery to users within 120 minutes of the oldest measurement in each orbit. The orbit repeat cycle is seven days every 111 orbits, and the spacecraft will have a lifetime of three years.

Airbus is a global leader in aeronautics, space and related services. In 2017 it generated revenues of €59 billion and employed a workforce of around 129,000.

Last month, the Stevenage firm won a £4 million contract to design a Sample Fetch Rover critical to bringing soil from Mars to Earth for the first time.

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