Forty years of Meteosat – a European success story in geostationary orbit

Forty years ago, on 23 November 1977 the European Space Agency (ESA) launched Meteosat-1, Europe’s very first meteorological satellite.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

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This laid the foundations for what was to become an extraordinary success story for satellite meteorology – and for EUMETSAT, Europe’s Meteorological Satellite Organisation itself. In fact, the history of European geostationary meteorological satellites stretches from the initial Meteosat satellites launched by ESA right up to EUMETSAT’s current Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) and the planned Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) programmes, expected to be launched in 2021 will continue this globally acknowledged European success story.

Although the instrumentation aboard Meteosat-1 seems primitive by today's standard, it was cutting-edge for its time.

"Meteosat-1 introduced the concept of a global system of geostationary platforms capable of observing the atmospheric circulation and weather around the equator in near-real time," Livio Mastroddi, Director of Operations at EUMETSAT said.

"It was also the first geostationary meteorological satellite to have a water vapour channel, tracking the movement of moisture in the air."

Meteosat-1's imager failed two years later, but plans were already under way at ESA, for a second satellite and Meteosat-2 was successfully launched on 19 June 1981. By this time, the establishment of EUMETSAT had been agreed upon and a set of operational satellites was planned to be launched under the aegis of the new organisation, which was founded in 1986, to take over operational control of the Meteosat satellites from ESA.

Now, 31 years later, EUMETSAT enjoys the status of a key player in the global operational meteorological infrastructure, with its array of ever-expanding satellite programmes that are of social, economic and environmental benefit to humankind.

Since then, Meteosat satellites have sent continuous feeds of imagery and data, building one of the longest climate data records from space and providing data crucial for forecasting severe weather events.

While Meteosat-1's ability to send an image of the "full disc" – Europe and Africa – every 30 minutes was state-of-the-art technology in 1977, the third generation of this satellites will send an image every 10 minutes, using 16 spectral channels, thereby further improving and improving on the key mission of the Meteosats – supporting the nowcasting of severe weather.

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