Proposed constellations would improve arctic weather observations

With Arctic aviation and maritime activity growing, Europe and Canada are leading the way in developing weather satellites to collect global data and improve observation of the 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 satellites in polar orbit to collect weather data, under a 32.5 million euro ($34) contract .8 million) from the European Space Agency awarded last year.

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

The Arctic Weather Satellite mission “will greatly benefit the Arctic and the world with better weather forecasting, as current systems do not provide the coverage and latency (to be implemented via a follow-up constellation),” Bastiaan Lagaune, aerospace engineer from OHB Sweden, told Space news by email.

Geostationary weather satellites orbiting the equator provide continuous observation of weather conditions in the Earth’s mid-latitudes. To predict weather conditions at higher latitudes, meteorologists wait for satellites in orbit to orbit the Earth and relay observations.

By contrast, the Arctic Weather Satellite constellation will “eventually provide a near-constant flow of temperature and humidity from anywhere on Earth, enabling very short-term weather forecasting,” Lagaune added.

Frequent Arctic weather observations, for example, could benefit “the maritime industry that plans to increasingly use the Northern Sea routes with the changing Arctic sea conditions due to climate change,” Lagaune said. “Accurate weather forecasting in this harsh and remote environment is vital to ensure safe and efficient transportation.”

The Canadian Space Agency, meanwhile, is working with Environment and Climate Change Canada and Natural Resources Canada on a two-year campaign to evaluate the costs 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 their view of the northern regions while collecting data on meteorological conditions, greenhouse gases, air quality and space weather.

Preliminary plans require the satellites to be equipped with spectrometers to track greenhouse gas emissions, a space weather sensor and a meteorological imager.

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

The Advanced Baseline Imager is the primary instrument of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R Series.

Canada expects AOM to play an important role in an international climate, air quality and greenhouse gas constellation.

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

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

A few years ago, NOAA also considered sending a weather satellite into high-slope orbit of the tundra to improve its observation of northern latitudes. After evaluating the value of those observations against the costs of the program, NOAA chose to supplement the data collected by its constellation of satellites orbiting in polar orbit with observations from international partners.

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

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