Weather satellite preparing to fix lightning

(ORDO NEWS) — As one of the last steps, before launching at the end of the year, Meteosat’s first third-generation meteorological satellite is being equipped with a Lightning Imager.

From a geostationary orbit 36,000 km above the Earth’s surface, this state of the art European instrument will continuously track lightning across more than 80% of the Earth’s disk for early warning of dangerous storms. Notably, it is capable of imaging relatively weak lightning in full sunlight.

After the first and second generations of satellites, Meteosat’s third generation (MTG) satellite will provide important data for weather forecasting from geostationary orbit for the next two decades. The MTG mission includes two types of satellites: four MTG-Imagers and two MTG-Sounders.

The first MTG-I, MTG-I1, is due to fly at the end of the year, and preparations are underway for this new satellite to be sent to the Europa launch site in French Guiana.

MTG-I1 is already equipped with one of its instruments, which will transmit a complete image of the Earth every 10 minutes for weather monitoring and forecasting. It can also zoom in on selected regions every 2.5 minutes.

Now it’s time to equip the MTG-I1 with another essential tool, the Lightning Imager.

Lightning, which can move from cloud to cloud or from cloud to ground, is a sure sign of atmospheric turbulence and can be used in meteorological modeling as an early indicator of the development of severe weather events. The sooner they are discovered, the better.

Continuous lightning monitoring with the new Lightning Imager will do just that – early detection of severe storms and therefore a key factor in timely warning, and will also be of particular importance for air traffic safety. Its detectors are so sensitive that relatively weak lightning can be detected even in full daylight.

The Lightning Imager was developed by Leonardo in Florence, Italy and is currently being delivered to Thales Alenia Space in Cannes, France, where it is being integrated into the MTG-I satellite.

Despite the relatively simple architecture of the instrument, which has no moving parts, the complexity of the Lightning Imager lies in the resolution and speed of the detectors, as well as on-board post-processing that automatically filters out any non-lightning data.

Paul Blythe, ESA’s Meteosat Program Manager, explains: “The instrument is based on four optical heads, each with a detector array of more than 1.2 million pixels. These arrays are sampled every millisecond to measure the energy emitted in the respective fields of view.

“For each of the more than 4.8 million pixels, these signals are then compared to a reference image of the Earth to determine if a lightning flash has occurred. With that many pixels and a 1-millisecond sampling rate, the instrument’s raw data rate is enormous several gigabits per second.

This rate is then reduced by a factor of more than 250 thanks to clever logic in the front panel electronics, followed by advanced signal processing in a state-of-the-art single board computer provided by Thales Alenia Space.

Only important data is transmitted for further analysis.”

This European capability will complement and exceed that of the US GOES Global Lightning Monitor instrument and has made a significant contribution to the overall forecasting capability.

It’s also interesting that cameras that detect fast and localized bursts of energy could be used for other purposes, such as potentially tracking meteor events.



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