Space Technology EarthCARE to Examine Clouds and Climate Patterns

Airbus’s EarthCARE climate monitoring satellite, a joint venture between the European and Japanese space agencies (ESA and JAXA), has been successfully launched from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base. The satellite’s primary mission is to investigate the complex interactions and impact of clouds and aerosols (minute atmospheric particles) on solar radiation reflection and infrared radiation entrapment from the Earth’s surface.

The satellite is designed to move around the Earth in a Sun-synchronous 400 km polar orbit, crossing the equator in the early afternoon to make the most of daylight conditions. Its role will involve creating vertical profiles of both natural and anthropogenic aerosols, recording the distribution and transportation of water droplets and ice crystals within clouds. This information will be invaluable in refining climate change models and enhancing weather forecasting capability. Aerosols play a crucial role in the life cycle of clouds and indirectly affect their radiation emission. Therefore, their measurement will provide a deeper understanding of Earth’s energy budget.

The development, construction, and testing of the spacecraft involved experts from 15 European countries, Japan, and Canada, with Airbus leading the operation from Friedrichshafen, Germany. The EarthCARE satellite is equipped with four instruments, including the Airbus-built atmospheric lidar ATLID. As the second spaceborne ultraviolet lidar from Europe, ATLID solidifies Airbus’s status as a global specialist in spaceborne lidars. This device will provide vertical profiles of aerosols and thin clouds.

The other instruments on the satellite include a Broad-Band Radiometer developed through the European industry by the ESA, a Multi-Spectral Imager developed by Airbus’s subsidiary Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, and a Cloud Profiling Radar developed by JAXA. This comprehensive suite of instruments will enable scientists to directly assess the impact of clouds and aerosols on Earth’s radiation budget for the first time using a single integrated satellite system. This approach is anticipated to significantly reduce current uncertainties in our understanding of these atmospheric phenomena.

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