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ESA Wind Mission to Launch Via Vega Rocket

Sep 12, 2016 06:12 AM EDT
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ESA has signed a contract with French commercial launch service provider Arianespace to secure the launch of the Aeolus satellite, which is the first mission to probe the Earth's winds.

The mission is slated to launch in 2017 on board a Vega rocket, Arianespace's new-generation vehicle that carries small to medium-sized satellite payloads. Vega offers configurations that could handle a wide range of payloads, from a single satellite to one main satellite plus small additional satellites, ESA said.

"Aeolus has certainly had its fair share of problems," Josef Aschbacher, ESA's Director of Earth Observation Programs, said in a statement. "However, with the main technical hurdles resolved and the launch contract now in place, we can look forward to it lifting off on a Vega rocket from French Guiana, which we envisage happening by the end of 2017."

The Aeolus satellite will deliver wind measurements and other information about aerosols and clouds in near real-time. The satellite will carry a unique space instrument called Aladin wind "lidar," which is a radar in laser form. Aladin's two powerful lasers will beam ultraviolet light at Earth and will bounce off air molecules and minute particles, such as dust, ice and droplets of water in the atmosphere. Then, Aladin's telescope will gather and measure the portions of light that are scattered back towards the satellite.

The mission also aims to explore atmospheric dynamics, such as thunderstorms, jet streams, hurricanes and global air circulation to improve weather tracking, cloud scanning and gauging.

According to ESA, creating the Aeolus mission had been challenging. It took the agency longer than expected to develop optics for the instrument that could survive high-intensity laser pulses. Because of developments and recent setbacks had the spacecraft's launch in 2015 had been postponed.

But recent tests showed that problems in the technology had been resolved. Developers are currently adding the instrument to Aeolus, and once ready, the satellite will be shipped to Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, ESA said.

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