Soil moisture and ocean salinity satellite ready for launch
29 October 2009
A new European Earth observation satellite will be launched in the early hours of Monday morning (2 November 2009) from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia.
The European Space Agency (ESA) Soil Moisture & Ocean Salinity (SMOS - pronounced SMOSS) satellite aims to measure both moisture levels in the Earth's soils and the saltiness (salinity) of the surface waters of the world's oceans from space for the very first time. British scientists and engineers have been involved in the mission from the start.
Global measurements of salinity and soil moisture will improve our understanding of how water is transported around the Earth, and how it circulates around the oceans, and lead to more accurate weather forecasts and climate simulations.
Professor Meric Srokosz from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, who was part of the international team that first proposed the mission in 1998, said, "The temperature and salinity of the water in the oceans determine its density, variations in which are important in driving ocean currents. We've been making salinity measurements from ships for many years, but with SMOS we will be able to get a global picture every few days."
"The oceans play a major role in the climate system and possible future changes in currents are important as the oceans interact with the atmosphere, taking up, releasing and re-distributing heat and freshwater. These interactions are key processes affecting both weather and climate," he added.
Professor Robert Gurney from the University of Reading and the National Centre for Earth Observation, who is working on the mission, said, "SMOS will give us global measurements of soil moisture for the very first time. The mission itself is very challenging because it is the first of its type, and allows us to look at a key area of the planet's water cycle. Soil moisture is important for understanding and predicting floods and droughts, and for predicting the future climate."
Dr Phil Newton, NERC's Director of Science Delivery, said, "The great advances in understanding weather, climate and environmental change promised by a successful SMOS mission cannot be achieved by single European nations acting alone. The European Space Agency provides an essential framework for pooling our intellectual, technological and financial resources, so making possible this sort of big science."
The launch of SMOS comes during the build-up to the crucial climate change talks in Copenhagen in December. Director General of the British National Space Centre (BNSC) Dr David Williams said, "SMOS is an important mission with key UK involvement. Satellites such as SMOS are vital for predictions of how our climate is changing and British scientists and engineers are world leaders in using data from space to improve our understanding of the Earth. The recently-opened ESA research facility at Harwell in Oxfordshire will reinforce the UK's focus on climate change research."
SMOS is the second of ESA's Earth Explorer missions and follows the successful launch of the GOCE (Gravity field and steady state Ocean Circulation Explorer) satellite earlier this year.
NERC Press Office
Natural Environment Research Council
Polaris House, North Star Avenue
Swindon, SN2 1EU
Tel: 01793 411561
Mob: 07917 557215
BNSC press office
Department for Business, Innovation & Skills
Tel: 020 7215 5256
Head of Communications
Tel: 01793 418072
Mob: 07500 918995
Tel: 00 33 1 5369 7412
Mob: 00 33 6 7569 5863
Scientists' contact details:
Professor Meric Srokosz
National Oceanography Centre, Southampton
Tel: 023 8059 6414
Professor Robert Gurney
National Centre for Earth Observation and University of Reading
Tel: 0118 3788741
Images of the SMOS satellite are available on the ESA website.
1. SMOS is due to be launched at 01:50:51 GMT Monday 2 November on a Rockot launch vehicle. The Rockot is a converted Russian Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), once known in the West as an SS-19. The launcher uses the original two stages of the ICBM in conjunction with a third stage for commercial payloads called Breeze KM.
2. The launch will be carried live on ESA TV. For more details on the mission and the launch (including any updates on timings) please see the ESA website.
3. SMOS employs a Y-shaped antenna with 69 small receivers. This is connected to a single main instrument on board the satellite that can measure both soil moisture and ocean salinity. This device, MIRAS (Microwave Imaging Radiometer using Aperture Synthesis) detects microwave radiation emitted from the sea and land. Several UK companies have been involved in building SMOS. These include SciSys UK Limited (which developed on-board software), ComDev and Chelton Antennas (involved in the manufacture of the antennas).
4. ESA's Earth Explorer missions include GOCE (currently mapping the Earth's gravity field) and CryoSat-2, led by a UK science team and due for launch early in 2010.
NERC funds world-class science, in universities and its own research centres, that increases knowledge and understanding of the natural world. It is tackling major environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity and natural hazards. NERC receives around £400m a year from the UK government's science budget, which is used to provide independent research and training in the environmental sciences.
6. BNSC is a cross-government organisation that co-ordinates UK civil space activities and brings together representatives from government, science, industry and education to promote advances in space technology and science. BNSC also supports efforts to use space within the teaching of maths, engineering and science to inspire young people. It is a partnership of six government departments, two research councils, the Technology Strategy Board and the Met Office. The partner organisations are; BIS, STFC, NERC, TSB, MOD, Met Office, Defra, DfT, DCSF and FCO.
7. Some 70 per cent of the investment in civil space by BNSC's partners is channelled through the European Space Agency (ESA). By pooling the resources of its 18 member states, ESA undertakes programmes and activities far beyond the scope of any single European country, developing the launchers, spacecraft and ground facilities needed to keep Europe at the forefront of global space activities.
Press release: 24/09
- European Space Agency - SMOS
- British National Space Centre
- National Oceanography Centre, Southampton
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