Owned and operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), Aeolus is the first satellite capable of performing global wind-component-profile observations on a daily basis in near real-time.
As a demonstrator satellite, it was developed to prove that new technologies can profile the Earth’s winds to understand how wind, pressure, temperature and humidity are interconnected – enhancing climate research and weather forecasting.
To this end, Aeolus is equipped with an innovative Airbus-designed LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) instrument called Aladin, which uses the Doppler effect to determine wind speed. Airbus is the only company to fly such an instrument in space, proving its capability to deliver such systems based on 20 years of expertise.
From strength to strength
Since its launch, Aeolus has consistently provided high quality data and has gone above and beyond the original mission. Providing missing wind measurements that were regularly provided by airliners prior to the COVID-19-caused reduction in air travel, Aeolus is deemed so valuable that the satellite’s information has been adopted for daily weather forecasting.
In January 2020, the UK-based European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) started using wind data from the Aeolus satellite, even taking into account the mission’s experimental nature – a testament to the impact its data has on weather forecasting. Aeolus is now being distributed to forecasting services and scientific users less than three hours after collection from space.
Indeed, the volume of data also clearly sets it apart, since this one satellite is delivering more wind data than all existing ground-based measuring systems. And after three years in orbit, Aeolus has now exceeded its design lifetime and is still going strong.
Aeolus-2: the future of daily LIDAR meteorology
Philippe Pham, Airbus’ Head of Earth Observation & Science, explains: “The fact that Aeolus data is now being used as part of the operational weather forecasting flow demonstrates its quality and reliability. Built as a one-off research mission, Aeolus is truly exceeding all expectations – a testament to our engineers’ skill and determination in developing this new technology. Its success also paves the way for a possible future fleet of Doppler wind Lidar satellites in space.”
The proposed follow-on mission, Aeolus-2, is set to be operational for much longer (five to seven years), and will consist of multiple satellites with overlapping lifetimes to ensure global wind data for decades to come.
Aeolus-2 will feature improved performance with the technology becoming more robust, with reduced error on wind speed measurements, and better resolution – meaning it will have an even more significant impact on global weather forecasting than its predecessor.
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