Major milestone at Stevenage Airbus site as European Space Agency’s Aeolus satellite comes together
- Credit: Archant
There was joy at Stevenage’s Airbus site as a long-awaited milestone was reached in a space laser mission to map the Earth’s winds as never before.
Construction of the European Space Agency’s Aeolus satellite was finally completed on Thursday last week when Stevenage engineers bolted the two major components together.
The satellite, expected to provide data that will vastly improve weather forecasting, is set to finally go into orbit next year after technical issues delayed launch by a decade.
Those looking on as the telescope and Aladin laser instrument were lowered onto the spacecraft bus included Airbus project manager Richard Wimmer, who has been working on Aeolus ever since the programme began in 2003.
“It’s one of those bizarre things where you wait and wait and wait, and then it comes and it seems like just another event,” he said.
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“But it’s a major milestone for sure because now we’re on a more standard assembly, integration and testing sequence.”
The spacecraft bus, containing the satellite’s computers and such, had been ready in Stevenage for years while the instrument problems were ironed out in Italy and France.
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Aeolus – named after the keeper of the winds in Greek mythology – will work by shooting ultraviolet laser pulses down into the atmosphere and tracking the light that bounces back off molecules, gas and droplets of water in the air, using the Doppler effect.
The time taken for the reflected light to return to the telescope will reveal where, at what altitudes and how quickly the winds are moving.
Airbus’ Dr Ralph Cordey explained: “When you talk to meteorologists, they identify that problem as the biggest gap in their measurements.
“The practical idea dates back to the 1990s, when people started putting lasers into aircraft and making these kinds of readings. This is the first time we’ve got to the stage of making these measurements from a space-borne laser.”
The plan is to use the data from Aeolus to create a global, 3D map of the winds around the Earth up to 30km into the stratosphere.
It is hoped this could help model future evolution of the Earth’s climate, and plot faster and more efficient flight paths.
Aeolus will now go back to the continent for testing in France and Belgium, ahead of its anticipated launch from French Guiana in late 2017.