Developing Advanced Satellite Technology to Monitor Climate Change

27.02.2020Developing Advanced Satellite Technology to Monitor Climate Change

Climate change is front page news around the world.

Here in the UK most of us have noticed a change in the environment, whether it’s thunder, snow, tropical heatwaves, or rising water levels. Climate change affects our ability to travel and to breathe clean air.

Scientists and environmental activists, Greta Thunberg among them, have publicly advocated the need for us to change our polluting ways, saying climate change is fast becoming one of the highest priority issues modern civilisation needs to address.

The importance of data

Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on for the causes or extent of climate change, it’s clearly vital that we obtain exact, quantitative measurements of its various aspects, rather than making do with subjective conjecture and anecdotal accounts.  

In fact, much of our weather and environmental data is beamed from satellites that are observing the Earth from their orbit every day.

The UK is committed to a joint programme with Europe, known as Copernicus. As part of the programme, Airbus Defence and Space is designing and building the Sentinel 4 and Sentinel 5 satellites. These will use the latest technology to monitor climate change and air pollution from space.

Their data will directly benefit areas such as emergency response or flooding; farming and environmental management; air quality; marine planning and fisheries. The same data also enables commercial applications that help the UK’s wider economy function more efficiently and effectively.

The huge satellites are likely to be manufactured and qualified in the UK, making use of facilities such as the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) RAL Space, which has extensive satellite testing capabilities.

AEON's Role

To contribute to the success of this endeavour, AEON is delighted to have been contracted to design and manufacture optical windows for RAL Space’s space simulation chambers.

The large chambers will be used to qualify the satellites by simulating the cold, black vacuum of space while engineers test and calibrate each instrument onboard. If a satellite fails to work in space, this can be a devastating loss for everyone involved, so this level of testing is supercritical.

The Sentinel-5/UVNS instrument

This is a high resolution spectrometer system. Its purpose is to examine the sunlight reflected by the Earth’s surface. Under examination, it is possible to identify gases such as carbon monoxide that the light has had to pass through to reach the satellite.

The UVNS Instrument operates in the ultraviolet to shortwave infrared range with seven different spectral bands:

  • Ultraviolet (UV-1) (270-300nm)
  • Ultraviolet (UV-2) (300-370nm)
  • Visible (VIS) (370-500nm)
  • Near Infrared (NIR-1) (685-710nm)
  • Near Infrared (NIR-2) (755-773nm)
  • Short Wave Infrared (SWIR-1) (1590-1675nm)
  • Short Wave Infrared (SWIR-3) (2305-2385nm)

Its spatial resolution is below 8km for wavelengths above 300nm and below 50km for wavelengths below 300nm.

AEON’s Optical Windows will be used to ensure that the UVNS Instrument is correctly assembled and is calibrated to monitor trace gas concentrations and aerosols in the Earth’s atmosphere. This data will support near-real time applications covering air-quality, air-quality protocol monitoring and climate protocol monitoring. The main data outputs being O3, NO2, SO2, HCHO, CO, CH4 and aerosol optical depth.

Interested in our work?

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