Amazing Views From ESA’s New MeteoSat Weather Satellite

The European Space Agency’s latest third generation Meteosat-I 1 weather satellite shows its stuff, with more to come.

You’ve never seen the Earth and its complex weather systems like this. The European Space Agency (ESA) recently unveiled views from their latest weather satellite in geostationary (GEO) orbit, Meteosat Third Generation Imager-1 (MTG-I 1).

MTG-I 1 promises to revolutionize crucial full-disk weather observations for ESA and the European Union, along with the African continent. The image in the release was captured courtesy of the satellite’s new main Flexible Combined Imager on March 18th, 2023. The image shows the full sweep of the Atlantic, Europe and Africa from Scandinavia down to the tip of South Africa.

24 hours over Europe, courtesy of Meteosat-I 1. Credit: ESA/Meteosat

“This remarkable image gives us great confidence in our expectation that the MTG system will herald a new era in the forecasting of severe weather events,” says Eumetsat Director General Phil Evans in a recent press release. “It might seem odd to be so excited about a cloudy day in Europe. But the level of detail seen for the clouds in this image is extraordinarily important to weather forecasters.”

Imaging at a much higher resolution than previous generations of weather satellites, MTG-I 1 can see cloud structure in greater detail. The satellite will also aid in creating more accurate weather forecasts. This will help with monitoring dust storm events off the Sahara, drought predictions, and fires in the region. This capability is coming none too soon, the 2023 fire season in Spain has gotten off to an early start.

One Heavy Launch

MTG-I 1 was built on a contract between ESA and Thales Alenia Space. MTG-I 1 was launched with Galaxy-35 and -36 atop an Ariane-5 rocket from the Guiana Space Center on December 13th, 2022. The trio represented the second heaviest launch mass to GEO for the Ariane-5 rocket to date (10,972 kg). This is just shy of 11,210 kg for VA255 mission in 2021 with SES-17 and Syracuse-4A. In geostationary orbit, MTG-I 1 is parked over the European/African longitude at an orbital slot of zero degrees, right along the Prime Meridian.

The first generation of Meteosats started on 1977 with Meteosat-1. These were retired in 2017 when Meteosat-7 used its remaining fuel to head to a super-synchronous graveyard orbit. The second generation includes four satellites in GEO, though the constellation is aging and set for retirement by 2033.

3 generations
Three generations of Meteosats. Credit: ESA

The third generation of Meteosats will feature the first dedicated full-disk lightning imager, developed by Italy’s Leonardo corporation. Eventually, the third generation constellation will include six satellites, all to be launched by 2035.

The upcoming MTG-S sounder satellites are especially innovative, as they will include spectrometers working in the ultraviolet, across the visible and into the infrared range. MTG-S will also feature an Infrared Sounder, able to probe the atmosphere in three dimensions. This ability is crucial in understanding volcanic ash, carbon monoxide and ozone content present in the atmosphere layer-by-layer. The first MTG-S satellite will launch in mid-2024.

MTG-I 1 meets its adapter fairing ahead of launch. Credit: ESA

Early Warnings for All

MTG-I 1 is now in a current 12-month commissioning phase. The system features high resolution imagery and a frequent repeat cycle. This will go a long ways towards climate analysis, severe weather forecasting and maritime and agricultural meteorology. This will also aid in the World Meteorological Organization’s Early Warnings for All Initiative. This effort covers weather forecasts over the African continent.

Once fully active, the MTG system with two imaging satellites (plus on-orbit spares) will repeat its imagery cycle once every 10 and 2.5 minutes. Eventually, users will be able to access imagery data from EUMETSat’s View page live online.

In addition to crucial weather observations, weather satellites in GEO sometimes provide us with views of unique and unexpected things, such as the shadow of the Earth’s Moon crossing the face of the Earth during a total solar eclipse.

Though they’re distant and usually below naked eye visibility, you can actually see satellites in geostationary orbit at certain special times of the year. This is known as GEOSat flare season, a time near each equinox when satellites in geostationary/geosynchronous orbit reach full illumination before winking out as they hit Earth’s shadow.

An artist’s conception of Meteosat in space. Credit: ESA.

GEOSat Legacy

Here’s one more amazing fact about GEOSats: they’re in ultra-stable orbits lasting millions of years. This means that they may represent some of the oldest remaining artifacts from our civilization. For this reason, some carry plaques similar to the memorials placed on the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft escaping the solar system. Notable examples were placed on the EchoStar XVI and LAGEOS-1 satellites in GEO orbit.

Its great to see a new generation of Meteosats working to understand the weather and climate of the Earth.