Preparing the MTG-I1 meteorological satellite for launch


To meet more than the 20-year operational life of the mission, the full Meteosat Third Generation system comprises six satellites: four Imaging (MTG-I) satellites and two Sounding (MTG-S) satellites. This image features one MTG-I satellite (in the foreground) and one MTG-S satellite. When fully deployed, the system will include two MTG-I satellites operating in tandem – one scanning Europe and Africa every 10 minutes and the other only Europe but every 2.5 minutes – and one MTG-S satellite to provide local-area coverage over selected parts of Earth, with a repeat cycle of typically five minutes. The combination of MTG’s innovative instruments along with their increased resolution and sensitivity is set to take weather forecasting to the next level, particularly in the challenging task of early detection and prediction of rapidly evolving and potentially dangerous weather events such as severe thunderstorms. The MTG-I satellites carry a Flexible Combined Imager and a Lightning Imager. The MTG-S satellites carry an Infrared Sounder and the Copernicus Sentinel-4 instrument. Credit: ESA/Mlabspace, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
To meet more than the 20-year operational life of the mission, the full Meteosat Third Generation system comprises six satellites: four Imaging (MTG-I) satellites and two Sounding (MTG-S) satellites. This image features one MTG-I satellite (in the foreground) and one MTG-S satellite. When fully deployed, the system will include two MTG-I satellites operating in tandem – one scanning Europe and Africa every 10 minutes and the other only Europe but every 2.5 minutes – and one MTG-S satellite to provide local-area coverage over selected parts of Earth, with a repeat cycle of typically five minutes. The combination of MTG’s innovative instruments along with their increased resolution and sensitivity is set to take weather forecasting to the next level, particularly in the challenging task of early detection and prediction of rapidly evolving and potentially dangerous weather events such as severe thunderstorms. The MTG-I satellites carry a Flexible Combined Imager and a Lightning Imager. The MTG-S satellites carry an Infrared Sounder and the Copernicus Sentinel-4 instrument. Credit: ESA/Mlabspace, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

This spectacular new weather satellite has taken center stage at Thales Alenia Space's facilities in Cannes before Europe's first Meteosat Third Generation Imager departs the south of France at the end of the month onboard a ship heading for French Guiana. The satellite is now being examined and prepared for shipping to Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. On September 28, the ship carrying the Meteosat Third Generation Imager-1 (MTG-I1) satellite will set sail from Fos-sur-Mer near Marseille. Once at Kourou, final preparations for lift-off will take around seven weeks. MTG-I1 was on display in the cleanroom at Thales Alenia Space, the mission's prime contractor, before to its three-week passage across the Atlantic Ocean.


Paul Blythe, ESA's Meteosat Program Manager, stated, "It's fantastic to see the first in the family of Meteosat Third Generation satellites almost ready to ship, and this is thanks to the many people who have worked so hard to get to this point."


This new satellite, which has two new very sensitive sensors, a Flexible Combined Imager and a Lightning Imager, is poised to take weather forecasting to the next level from geostationary orbit.


Météo-Head France's of Research and Development, Hervé Roquet, expressed his excitement about the MTG mission. It will allow us to make significant advancements in the forecast of severe weather occurrences. For example, by utilizing MTG data, we will be able to anticipate storms many hours in advance, which is critical for delivering civic safety alerts.


The entire MTG system will last more than 20 years and will thus include six spacecraft, four MTG-I, and two MTG-S sounding satellites. Two MTG-I satellites and one MTG-S satellite will work in tandem to accomplish the mission. The remaining satellites will ultimately replace the first group of satellites. When fully operational, one of the MTG-I satellites scans the whole Earth disk, including Europe and Africa, every 10 minutes, while the other offers smaller region coverage, such as solely scanning Europe but with a quicker repetition cycle.


The single MTG-S satellite will also offer local-area coverage over chosen portions of the Earth, with a typical five-minute repetition period. As climate change causes increasingly frequent and severe weather occurrences, accurate weather forecasting and nowcasting is more critical than ever. The new series of weather satellites will deliver considerable improvements over the Meteosat Second Generation's present imager capabilities, as well as real-time lightning imagery and an all-new infrared sounding capability for early identification of severe storms. The whole MTG configuration is intended to generate at least 50 times more data than the present geostationary Meteosat Second Generation satellites and to distribute that data at a quicker rate. Furthermore, this data will be far greater resolution than those now accessible.

When compared to Meteosat Second Generation's Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared sensor, MTG-Flexible I's Combined Imager offers more spectral channels and better resolution pictures. The Lightning Imager on MTG-I adds an entirely new capacity to European meteorological satellites. It will continually scan more than 80% of the Earth's disk for lightning discharges occurring between clouds or between clouds and the ground. Its detectors are so sensitive that they can detect relatively faint lightning even in bright sunlight.


According to Carlo Simoncelli, MTG Lightning Imager Program Manager at Leonardo Space, the lightning imager's recipe is largely based on "good eyes" because we need excellent optics to detect even very small lightning signals and "good brains" because we need something resembling artificial intelligence that adapts how it detects lightning depending on different scenarios. The lightning imager can identify lightning signals as short as 6 milliseconds and at a distance equivalent to watching your favorite show 3 kilometers away from your television set.


MTG-I1 will shortly be carefully packed up safely in its transport container, with shipping to the launch site only a few weeks away.


Thales Alenia Space's MTG Program Manager, Pierre Armand, stated that as the prime contractor, Thales Alenia Space has led 100 firms and included more than 200 contracts in the construction of MTG-I1. Of course, because of the COVID epidemic, we had to change our working methods, which was difficult. I'm quite happy that everyone worked so hard through these trying times to get to where we are now, with the satellite virtually ready to be sent to the launch site. There is still work to be done at Kourou, but we are excited to see it take off and begin its mission in orbit.


ESA and Eumetsat collaborated on the MTG project. ESA is responsible for the design and implementation of the MTG satellites, as well as the purchase of recurring gear, while Eumetsat is in charge of running the spacecraft and providing data to customers.


Eumetsat's MTG Program Manager, Alexander Schmid, expressed excitement about the shipment of MTG-I1 and its debut, followed by Eumetsat taking over operations, testing and commissioning it over the next year, and disseminating data to users. For several years, we have been collaborating with the user community to assist them prepare for the new MTG data. This has included specific simulation campaigns and giving them with test data so that their systems are ready to enhance weather forecasts for the public benefit.

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