A European satellite was launched into a polar orbit, marking the beginning of a coordinated mission to improve weather forecasts by using new laser technology to measure winds around the globe.
A Vega rocket carrying the Aeolus satellite lifted off from a spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on Wednesday, at 6.20 pm and entered into orbit around half an hour later, reports Efe news.
Controlled from the European Space Agency (ESA) operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, Aeolus will also play a key role in the "quest to better understand the workings of our atmosphere", the agency said.
Curiously, the launch of the satellite—initially scheduled for Tuesday—had to be postponed for 24 hours because of wind.
Aeolus will provide insight into how the tropical wind from the Pacific influences the climate in Europe, among other things.
"Aeolus epitomizes the essence of an Earth Explorer. It will fill a gap in our knowledge of how the planet functions and demonstrate how cutting-edge technology can be used in space," Jan Worner, ESA's Director General said after the launch.
Currently, there are all kinds of aircraft, ships, buoys and satellites that measure winds, but in the southern hemisphere and over the oceans in the tropics, measurements of wind speeds at more than 10 km in altitude are not very developed.
Aeolus will use a new device called the Aladin (Atmospheric Laser Doppler Instrument), which generates pulses of ultraviolet light that are beamed down into the atmosphere, to examine the atmosphere from an altitude of 320 km, especially the first 30 km upwards from earth.
The lack of direct global wind measurements is one of the major deficits in the Global Observing System which Aeolus hopes to improve on.
"We look forward to it living up to expectations!" ESA's Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Josef Aschbacher said after the satellite was successfully deployed into orbit.