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Wednesday, 7 August, 2002, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
Brighter outlook for weather forecasts
Meteosat second generation. (Copyright: Esa/Eumetsat)
MSG-1: Will see weather changes over Europe

The first of a new generation of European weather satellites will be launched later this month.

Meteorologists say the new technology will lead to better forecasts, especially for severe weather such as storms and fog.

The first of three Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) satellites, built by the European Space Agency, will be blasted into orbit on 27 August.


The weather forecast should become more accurate and that has hidden benefits for everyone

Mike Phillips, Eumetsat
MSG-1 will take off from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on board an Ariane 5 rocket.

The UK is contributing 95m towards the cost of the satellite programme, as part of a technology drive by the Met Office.

Information gathered from space will be processed by the organisation's new super computer.

The 27.5m "number cruncher" will be fitted at the Met Office's Exeter base in 2004.

Click here to see how new weather maps might look

In the Met Office's forecasting room in Bracknell, Berkshire, computers are "increasingly doing the guts of the forecasting," says Ewen McCallum, head of forecasting services.

He predicts machines will be doing 99% of the work in the next decade or two - as forecasting becomes much more technological.

"We started with a pencil and now we've got supercomputers and satellites," he told BBC News Online.

"It's a much more scientific and technically based business than it was 20 or 30 odd years ago."

Back to the 1970s

The world's first dedicated weather satellite, Tiros 1, was launched by the United States in April 1960.

This was followed, in 1977, by Europe's first weather satellite, Meteosat 1. Six more Meteosat satellites have been launched since then.

These will be superseded by three more advanced versions to be launched over the next seven years.

"To do weather forecasting with accuracy you can't do without satellites," says McCallum. "They're an essential part of the whole process."

The first satellite, MSG-1, will observe the Earth from an orbit 35,780 km (22,230 miles) above the equator.

Like its predecessors, it will be launched into geostationary orbit and will circle the Earth every day, keeping pace with the planet's rotation and appearing to "hover" over the same point.

Hidden benefits

"It's a big step forward from the previous generation, which has been serving us now for 25 years," says Mike Phillips of Eumetsat, Europe's weather satellite organisation.

Eumetsat is managing and funding the 1.3 billion Euro programme, which includes three satellites, a new ground processing system, launches and operations costs over 12 years.

But will it make a difference to those trying to second-guess the whims of the British weather? According to Phillips, the outlook is good.

"The weather forecast should become more accurate and that has hidden benefits for everyone," the head of information services told BBC News Online.

"You won't get wet when you shouldn't get wet; that's the simplistic side of things.

"But also if aviation forecasters are better then they can save more fuel and you don't have to spend so much money on paying for tickets."

Image: Met Office
The new satellite will give clearer images (right)
Click here to go back to text
See also:

29 Feb 00 | Science/Nature
05 Jul 01 | South Asia
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