Developing new satellite instruments is always challenging, but at times more head-scratching is needed to create something truly cutting-edge. ESA’s Aeolus mission may have caused a few headaches along the way, but its wind lasers are now ready and the task of putting the rest of the instrument together can begin so that it can be ready for launch in 2016.
This pioneering Earth Explorer mission will provide accurate and timely profiles of the world’s winds as well as information on aerosols and clouds. These profiles will not only advance our understanding of atmospheric dynamics, but will also offer much-needed information to improve weather forecasts.
To do this, the satellite will carry some of the most challenging technology ever put into orbit: a novel wind lidar called Aladin – incorporating two powerful lasers, a large telescope and very sensitive receivers.
The laser generates UV light which is beamed towards Earth. This light bounces off air molecules and small particles such as dust, ice and droplets of water in the atmosphere. The fraction of light that is scattered back towards the satellite is collected by Aladin’s telescope and measured.