Updated: Oct 29, 2019
On August 22nd, 2018 at exactly 5:21 pm EST, a space rocket, called Vega, was launched from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. The launch, originally planned for Tuesday, has been ironically postponed by 24 hours due to strong winds and high altitudes. The launching mission took slightly more than one hour and concluded in a success.
WHAT IS AEOLUS?
Built by Airbus Defense and Space, Aeolus is a British satellite equipped with two light detections and ranging instruments, called “lider”. Aeolus was initially appointed to launch in 2007 after it secured a manufacturing contract in 2003. The satellite was named Aeolus after the “Keeper of the Winds” in Greek mythology.
This is the fifth “Earth Explorer” mission, organized by the European Space Agency (ESA) and allows scientists to create new technologies that will provide solutions to Earth science challenges. The objective of this mission is to provide important data to improve the global coverage of wind profile observations and wind forecast around the world.
HOW DOES AEOLUS WORK
The Aeolus spacecraft will collect its data by firing a powerful laser through the atmosphere to trace the movement of tiny air particles. Here is his equipment and how it works:
Aeolus fires powerful pulses of ultraviolet laser light through the atmosphere and measures the direction of the returning signal using a large telescope.
The laser light gets scattered when they bounce off tiny air particles moving in the atmosphere at different altitudes and wavelength of light.
Meteorologists will then adjust their current data to match the information provided by the Aeolus satellite to improve its accuracy.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR KITEBOARDING AND WIND SPORTS IN GENERAL
This sounds cool, but how much of a difference would this make on our Windfinder forecast. At the end of the day, you simply want to know if the weekend is going to be windy, right?! What does it mean for sports such as kiteboarding, windsurfing but also surfing and sailing? Can wind-addicted warriors benefit from this fancy technology, and to what extent?
Let’s start with the basics! There are several techniques used in measuring the wind. These include the whirling anemometers, weather balloons, and satellites. All of these methods study the atmosphere to get the wind behavior. These are all limited indications that tell us what is happening in particular places or at particular heights. Aeolus, on the other hand, will gather wind data across the entire Earth, from the ground to the stratosphere (30 km). The Aeolus mission will provide scientists with data on winds in areas where ground stations do not exist, such as in remote areas or oceans, but very important in predicting weather changes. To assess how big of an improvement this could bring, we asked Rodrigo Martin Gonzalo, engineer (Ecole Centrale Paris, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid) and meteorologist at the Aemet (Spanish Meteorology Agency) and he said:
“Aeolus could massively improve the global coverage of the current upper wind, observing its systems as this will bring a new and complementary method to obtain data on upper winds. Traditionally, during the last 100 years, balloon-borne systems are employed and upper wind data are mainly acquired by using radiosonde techniques, although pilot-balloon and radio wind observations may be used, or in some places, the information available from aircraft and radars dominates the ones available from radiosondes with heights of about 12 km.
With wind measurements from satellite-borne lidars (light detection and ranging), the observations can be noticed from the space and can be observed instantaneously at any altitude. Consequently, the weather forecasts will be improved since wind data will be more accurate. This approach will make more information available to meteorologists.
In meteorological models, winds are one of the main variables which should be modeled and with a greater and more accurate number of points, results will be refined. The implications will affect the globe as the Earth can be considered a thermal machine, warming by the equator and cooling by the poles. Winds flow in cells equaling the temperature in the planet. As the data is shared between the different actors, even if only one satellite is in the space, it will benefit the entire population.”
Aeolus will commence its science mission after three months of on-orbit commissioning which has 3-year duration. Aeolus is just a one-time demonstration mission and questions are being asked about what happens after it reaches the end of its useful life. Meteorologists and forecasters may be motivated to re-build another satellite if the mission is successful, but this is not on the menu yet! Also, this would not be done by ESA to produce a second spacecraft as the agency is in the business of trying out new concepts so other agencies will have to fund follow-on missions. For now, we just have to be patient to see the outcome.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Aeolus will gather wind data across the entire Earth, from the ground to the stratosphere. The Aeolus mission will provide scientists with data on winds in areas where ground stations do not exist such as in remote areas, oceans, weather balloons, airplanes but very important in predicting weather changes. This could massively improve the global coverage of the current upper wind and wind forecast as we know them. However, Aeolus is a 3-year demonstration mission and his results may not be integrated into current models on a large scale.