Published on 15 February 2019
Since ESA’s Aeolus satellite was launched in August, engineers and scientists have been carefully checking the information that this pioneering mission is delivering on the world’s winds – and now it’s time for the next phase. Although our daily weather forecasts are pretty reliable, they still need to be improved further and to do this meteorologists urgently need direct measurements of the wind.
However, this is no easy task as extraordinary technology is needed to measure the wind from space.
Nevertheless, ESA’s Aeolus satellite has been designed to do just this. It carries the first instrument of its kind and uses a completely new approach to measuring wind. Comprising a powerful laser, a large telescope and a very sensitive receiver, Aeolus’ ground-breaking instrument works by emitting short, powerful pulses of ultraviolet light from a laser to deliver vertical profiles that show the speed of the world’s winds in the lowermost 30 km of the atmosphere.
Since this is such novel and challenging technology, scientists and engineers have had their work cut out assessing how the satellite is functioning in orbit and checking the quality of the data it is returning. For example, they have been comparing this new data with modelled data at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts and have already established improvements to the forecast model thanks to the additional data from Aeolus.