Proposed constellations would improve Arctic weather observations

With arctic aviation and maritime activity on the rise, Europe and Canada are taking the lead in developing weather satellites to collect global data and improve observation of Earth’s northernmost latitudes.

A consortium led by OHB Sweden AB is developing a prototype for the European Space Agency’s Arctic Weather Satellite, a proposed constellation of 16 small polar-orbiting satellites to collect weather data, under a 32-year European Space Agency contract, 5 million euros (34.8 million dollars) awarded last year.

The prototype, scheduled for launch in 2024, will be equipped with a microwave radiometer developed by AAC Omnisys. Thales Alenia Space is the prime contractor for the ground segment of the Arctic Weather Satellite.

The Arctic Weather Satellite mission “will greatly benefit the Arctic region and the world with better weather predictions, as current systems do not provide the coverage and latency (to be implemented through a tracking constellation),” Bastiaan Lagaune, a space business engineer from OHB Sweden. , said SpaceNews By email.

Geostationary weather satellites orbiting the equator provide constant observation of weather conditions at Earth’s mid-latitudes. To forecast weather conditions at higher latitudes, meteorologists expect polar-orbiting satellites to circle the globe and relay observations.

In contrast, the Arctic weather satellite constellation “will ultimately provide a nearly constant stream of temperature and humidity from all locations on Earth, enabling very short-term weather forecasts,” Lagaune added.

Frequent weather observations in the Arctic, for example, could benefit “the shipping sector that plans to increasingly use the Northern Sea routes with changing Arctic sea conditions due to climate change,” Lagaune said. “Having accurate weather forecasts in this harsh and remote environment is vital to ensuring safe and efficient transportation.”

Meanwhile, the Canadian Space Agency is working with Environment and Climate Change Canada and Natural Resources Canada on a two-year campaign to assess the cost and potential benefits of a proposed Arctic Observation Mission.

If approved, the Arctic Observing Mission (AOM) would send two satellites into highly elliptical orbits to maximize its view of northern regions while collecting data on weather conditions, greenhouse gases, air quality and climate. space.

Preliminary plans call for the satellites to be equipped with spectrometers to track greenhouse gas emissions, a space weather sensor and a weather camera.

International partners could play an important role in the AOM program, said Ray Nassar, AOM principal investigator at Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“Some possibilities include NASA or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration contributing to the space weather instrument suite,” Nassar said by email. “NOAA could also potentially contribute a spare flight model of the Advanced Baseline Imager.”

The Advanced Baseline Imager is the lead instrument for the R-series of operational geostationary environmental satellites.

Canada expects AOM to play a major role in an international constellation on climate, air quality and greenhouse gases.

“I would enhance these constellations with northern observations in these three disciplines with data that is free and open to the international community,” Nassar said in a presentation at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting in January.

If the project gets funding from the Canadian government in 2025, the AOM satellites could be launched in the early 2030s.

A few years ago, NOAA also considered sending a weather satellite into a high-inclination Tundra orbit to improve observation of northern latitudes. However, after weighing the value of those observations against the cost of the program, NOAA chose to augment the data collected by its constellation of polar-orbiting satellites with observations made by international partners.

This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

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