Understanding the Earth’s Weather: Arianespace Launches Europe’s Aeolus Wind-monitoring Satellite

Ariane 5 launches the Aeolus satellite. (Credit: Arianespace)

KOUROU, French Guiana (Arianespace PR) — Arianespace marked another mission accomplished for the Earth’s sustainable development as its light-lift Vega vehicle successfully orbited Europe’s Aeolus – the first satellite designed to profile wind profiles on a global scale.

Lifting off from the Spaceport’s Vega Launch Complex at 6:20:09 p.m. local time in French Guiana – the planned precise moment of launch – Vega lofted its passenger during a flight lasting just under 55 minutes, with Aeolus placed into a Sun-synchronous orbit.

Built by Airbus Defence and Space, the satellite carries a laser Doppler wind LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) system called Aladin that will probe the lowermost 30 km. of the atmosphere in measuring winds around the Earth.

The LIDAR’s near-real-time observations will provide reliable wind profiles, further improving the accuracy of numerical weather and climate prediction, as well as advance the understanding of tropical dynamics and processes relevant to climate variability.

Vega’s success by the numbers

In post-launch comments from the Spaceport, Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël congratulated this mission’s customer – the European Space Agency (ESA) – and underscored his company’s continuing contributions to space research and science at the service of such institutions.

“Ensuring reliable and independent access to space for Europe is our no. 1 mission,” he added. “It would not be possible without the long-term partnership we have with ESA.”

Aeolus marked the milestone 50th mission – and the eighth dedicated to Earth observation – performed by Arianespace for ESA. It is one of the agency’s Earth Explorer missions, which address key scientific challenges identified by the science community and demonstrate breakthrough technology in observing techniques.

Marking another milestone, Aeolus also is the 120th Airbus-produced spacecraft launched by Arianespace, with 20 more still in the company’s order book.

A track record of excellence

Designated Flight VV12, today’s mission was Vega’s 12th since entering service in 2012 (all of which have been successful), and it further demonstrated the capabilities of a light-lift vehicle that completes Arianespace’s launcher family – joining the company’s medium-lift Soyuz and heavyweight Ariane 5 in reliable side-by-side operations from the Spaceport in French Guiana. Vega is provided to Arianespace by Italy’s Avio, which is the industrial prime contractor.

The 12 successful missions performed to date by Vega were for both institutional customers and commercial export customers, confirming the launcher’s operational capabilities as well as its adaptability.

Flight VV12 was Arianespace’s fifth mission in 2018, and the company’s first this year using Vega. Next up in the company’s manifest is the milestone 100th launch of a workhorse Ariane 5, which will orbit the Horizons 3e and Azerspace-2/Intelsat-38 commercial telecommunications satellites in September.