January 29, 2004
New Era Begins as Meteosat Second Generation (MSG-1) Goes Operational
With commissioning activities finished, MSG-1 begins delivering nine new and three improved products at higher speeds. In keeping with tradition, MSG-1 will be renamed Meteosat-8.
At the stroke of 12:00 GMT, a new era in European operational meteorology was ushered in. At that moment, the very first satellite in a new series of meteorological satellites became operational – offering improved and faster images and data to European forecasters on a daily basis.
These data will undoubtedly help weather services give more accurate predictions of extreme weather, thereby saving property and lives. They will also help researchers gain a deeper understanding of physical processes important to weather and climate.
The first of the Meteosat Second Generation (MSG-1) satellites was launched in August 2002 and completed commissioning activities in December 2003, allowing the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) to declare the satellite operational at the end of January.
The satellite was jointly developed with the European Space Agency (ESA) and manufactured by a consortium led by ALCATEL. The satellite and ground segment are owned and operated by EUMETSAT. Three additional MSG satellites will be built and launched, extending the MSG programme until 2018, allowing a smooth transition into the planned third generation of Meteosats.
The newly designed satellites are spin-stabilised in the geostationary orbit and will perform full-disc scans of the Earth like their predecessors. But, with MSG’s 12 spectral channels, or “eyes,” and a repeat cycle of only 15 minutes (instead of 30 minutes as before), MSG can provide 20 times the information of the previous Meteosat system.
“For the first time ever, we can look at the Earth with 12 different ‘eyes’ every 15 minutes – a major breakthrough in monitoring cloud development,” said Johannes Schmetz, the Head of EUMETSAT’s Meteorological Division.
Each of the 12 channels offers a different perspective of the Earth and different combinations of channels can be used for novel meteorological products.
MSG not only offers images of the full 'earth-disc' faster than other satellites, these images are greatly improved. Certain images of weather phenomena are available in colour after they are processed in the ground segment. This colour coding of weather activity helps meteorologists monitor sweeping weather patterns.
MSG satellite information helps scientists find out when clouds begin to ice and hence helps them examine the cloud structure more deeply than before. By tracking the displacement of clouds in different channels, meteorologists can infer wind speed and direction.
With MSG’s improved imaging capabilities, meteorologists can produce ’false colour’ pictures that make their work easier. For example, ice clouds can show up as blue and dust clouds over the Sahara desert can be coloured yellow – making these weather phenomena easy to distinguish. Colours can be used to denote information that comes from a combination of different channels, allowing a more comprehensive view of weather phenomena.
Meteorologists at airports will also benefit as short-term predictions become more accurate. The MSG scans allow forecasters to track if a cloud transforms from water to ice or, even more dangerous to aircrafts, when a cloud consists of supercooled water.
Because of its position in geostationary orbit, MSG supplies unprecedented coverage of weather events across Africa. These data are of interest to those studying changes in the climate, and they will help mitigate the effects of natural disasters in Africa. Together with the European Union, EUMETSAT is equipping and training African meteorologists on the MSG system.
Finally, MSG will boost the effectiveness of Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) models by improving the initial data for a model forecast.
The MSG satellites carry a main instrument called the Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager (SEVIRI). SEVIRI generates a vastly improved stream of data and images in 12 channels with twice the speed of first-generation Meteosats, as well as greatly improved resolutions:
Denis Fayard, EUMETSAT’s MSG Commissioning Coordinator, said, “With MSG, it is as if we were taking simultaneously eleven images every 15 minutes using a 14-megapixel camera instead of taking two simultaneous pictures using a 6-megapixel camera every 30 minutes, with the MTP. For the high resolution visible channel, the comparison would be 64 megapixels for MSG compared with 25 megapixels for MTP.”
A second instrument on board is the so-called GERB, or Geostationary Earth Radiation Budget instrument. GERB measures the Earth’s radiation balance as it views the top of the atmosphere. GERB gathers information critical for Earth sciences, in particular the analysis of the climate critical interactions between clouds and radiation.
Ground-segment innovations are also a crucial part of the MSG programme. EUMETSAT operates a Primary Ground Station north of Frankfurt and a specially built system in the Mission Control Centre (MCC). Raw data are processed in the MCC and retransmitted to users via EUMETCast, EUMETSAT’s Multicast Distribution System developed as an alternative dissemination mechanism to deliver MSG-1 data to users.
Finally, seven Satellite Application Facilities (SAFs), a network of processing centres, play an important part in exploiting MSG data.
As EUMETSAT Director-General Dr. Tillmann Mohr declared MSG operational, the popping of corks and the clinking of glasses could be heard in the background. It was a big day for the people of EUMETSAT.
One of the highest highs was the actual launch on 29 August 2002 of MSG-1 from French Guyana. One of the lowest lows was the failure of the solid state power amplifier (SSPA) in October 2002. However, the failure of the amplifier was a blessing in disguise. It caused EUMETSAT engineers to find a better way to disseminate MSG data – through the EUMETCast system. Another great moment in the history of MSG-1 was the display of the first image on 28 November 2002.
EUMETSAT conducted and was responsible for commissioning, which was performed in two phases – Phase A and Phase B. Phase A focused on the satellite in-orbit testing and a first version of the ground segment (relying on a temporary solution for image processing). Considerable progress was made during Phase A, despite sometimes difficult circumstances. One example is the rapid development of the EUMETCast system used to mitigate the effects of the power amplifier failure on-board the spacecraft.
The commissioning process included in-depth tests and tuning of the MSG satellite and ground segment, and tests showed excellent performance. Many EUMETSAT scientists therefore believe that the quality of the products, after seasonal adjustment and fine-tuning, will exceed expectations.
In addition to the improvements already mentioned, data transmission capabilities from the MSG satellite have been improved greatly to handle the significant increase of information gathered by the satellite.
Low Rate and High Rate transmission services replace the High Resolution Image (HRI) dissemination service and the WEFAX services of the Meteosat Transition Programme (MTP). MTP services will continue largely unchanged throughout the period of parallel MTP/MSG Operations until the end of 2005.
EUMETSAT is an intergovernmental organisation that establishes and maintains operational meteorological satellites for 18 European States (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom). EUMETSAT also has six Cooperating States (Croatia, Hungary, Poland, The Slovak Republic, Slovenia and Romania). Additionally, an agreement has been signed with Serbia and Montenegro, and upon ratification by its government, Serbia and Montenegro will become the latest Cooperating State.
The images and the data from Meteosat make a significant contribution to weather forecasting and to the monitoring of the global climate.
(pdf) Here is a brief overview of the 12 channels of the MSG-1 satellite. A meteorological product is taken from one or several channels, which represent the measurements at particular wavelengths. Channels are operational day and night, except solar channels which are available only during daylight.