Telespazio, a joint venture between Leonardo (67%) and Thales (33%), will manage the LEOP (Launch and Early Orbit Phase) operations from the Fucino Space Center in Abruzzo for the launch and transfer into the final orbit of the first Third Generation Meteosat geostationary satellite (MTG-I), which will be launched on December 13 from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
The MTG program, result of the collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and Eumetsat (the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites), and heir to the success of previous generations still operational, will guarantee the continuity of data for weather forecasts for the next two decades. The satellite was built by Thales Alenia Space in collaboration with OHB. Also on board is the first European “lightning hunter”, created by Leonardo.
The Third Generation of Meteosat
Meteosat Third Generation Imager-1 (MTG-I1) is the first of a new generation of geostationary satellites providing imagery for the early detection of fast-developing severe storms, weather forecasting and climate monitoring.
The combination of MTG’s innovative instruments, and their increased resolution and sensitivity, offer significant enhancement on the current Meteosat Second Generation, particularly in the challenging task of early detection and prediction of rapidly evolving and potentially dangerous weather events such as severe thunderstorms.
ESA and Eumetsat have been working together for more than four decades, ensuring that successive missions carrying the latest space technology are continually in both geostationary and low-Earth polar orbits. The MTG mission will guarantee the continuity of data for weather forecasting from geostationary orbit for the next two decades.
ESA is responsible for the definition and implementation of the MTG satellites and procurement of recurrent hardware, while Eumetsat is in charge of operating the Spacecraft throughout its lifetime.
New Capabilities for the Program
The MTG satellites accommodate their state-of-the art instruments on a three-axis stabilised platform, meaning that the orientation of the satellites remains fixed with respect to Earth, with the payloads looking continually at Earth’s disc.
To meet more than 20 years operational life, the full MTG system comprises six satellites: four Imaging (MTG-I) satellites and two Sounding (MTG-S) satellites. When fully deployed, the system will include two MTG-I Satellites operating in tandem. One scanning Europe and Africa every 10 minutes and the other only Europe but every 2.5 minutes. One MTG-S Satellite, instead, to scan the full Earth disc every 60 minutes and to provide local-area coverage, such as Europe, with a repeat cycle of 15 minutes.
MTG-I1 is the first new Satellite to be launched, it boasts a Flexible Combined Imager that covers the visible, near-infrared and infrared, with 16 channels in all. Thanks to its additional channels, the imager will ensure better detection of thin cirrus cloud, aerosols, localised fire events, thereby enhancing data for air quality forecasts and volcanic ash detection, for example.
The “Lightning Imager”
Developed by Leonardo in Italy and mounted on the MTG-Imager satellites, the Lightning Imager will provide a new capability for European Meteorological Satellites. It provides a continuous monitoring of more than 80% of the Earth disc for detecting lightning discharges taking place either between clouds or from cloud and ground (whether day or night).
The instrument comprises four identical optical telescopes, mounted on a common head assembly. Each sensor covers one of four domains on the observable Earth disc.
Information from this new instrument will be used for the so called “Nowcasting”, near-immediate weather forecasts, and is also particularly relevant for air traffic safety. In addition, information will be used to advance understanding of physical and chemical processes in the atmosphere.
Notably, this is the first time a GEO Weather Satellite has the capability to detect lightning across Europe, Africa and surrounding waters.
“[The satellite will] autonomously select the useful images that can be associated with lightning, thanks to proprietary algorithms and data processing systems. If the instrument produces about 48 Gb of data per second, the cards will reduce the amount of data it will transmit by about 1000 times (only 30 Mbps).“—Leonardo Company
The Role of Fucino Space Center
For the launch and orbital transfer operations of the first MTG-I, 5 years of preparation were required according to Telespazio, with the involvement of about 40 people for the design activities of the ground segment, and the preparation and test operations for the execution of the LEOP phase.
Particularly, the launch of MTG will require the monitoring of thousands of telemetry parameters to verify the status of the satellite, sending remote controls for the configuration of the on-board equipment and the transfer into GEO orbit.
Just a few seconds after the launch of the satellite, the teams involved in the operations, divided into two groups, will be busy 24 hours a day for 11 days until the end of the activities necessary for the transfer into Geostationary orbit and the final configuration of the satellite.
According to Telespazio, more than 70 Support Engineers will be available:
“Everything will be done in the Fucino Space Center, with a Team counting more than 40 Engineers. 70 Support Engineers by @esa and @Thales_Alenia_S will be available for more in-depth operations…”— Space Voyaging (@SpaceVoyaging) December 5, 2022
Notably, Telespazio hopes to conclude on December 24 the LEOP operations, then the satellite can begin the testing phase.
“From Dec. 24 we will have some month of testing. Full operativity will be available between Summer and Winter 2023, we want to be sure that the Data we gives are on point.”—Paolo Ruti, Eumetsat
Furthermore, Leonardo also participates in the MTG program through the supply of its A-STR star attitude sensors and with the photovoltaic panels (PVA) for all six new generation satellites.
Launch of MTG-I1 is currently scheduled for December 23, at 21:30 CET.