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MetOp-C payload module
11-01-2017 11:40 AM CET

europeanspaceagency posted a photo:

MetOp-C payload module

The payload module of MetOp-C, Europe’s latest weather satellite, is in place at ESA’s technical centre in the Netherlands for rigorous testing in space-like conditions.

MetOp is a set of three polar-orbiting satellites whose temperature and humidity observations from a relatively close 800 km-altitude orbit have sharpened the accuracy of weather forecasting.

Procured by ESA for Eumetsat, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, MetOp-A was launched in 2006 and MetOp-B in 2012, with MetOp-C due to follow next year.

MetOp-C’s sensor module was transported in the first week of January from Airbus Defence and Space in Friedrichshafen, Germany to ESA’s Test Centre in Noordwijk in the Netherlands, which is equipped to simulate every aspect of the space environment.

The 2.1 tonne module carries a suite of meteorology and climatology instruments, variously procured by ESA or sourced from Eumetsat, France’s CNES space agency and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The operation of the payload module and its instruments needs to be verified in space-like vacuum conditions,” explains Jacques Mauduit of European Test Services, the company operating the centre for ESA.

“This ‘thermal vacuum’ testing will take place in the Large Space Simulator this spring, with cryogenically cooled ‘blackbodies’ fitted in front of individual instrument openings or radiators to control their temperatures to within 100–30ºC of absolute zero.”

The set-up for this complex test was verified last autumn.

Once testing is complete, MetOp-C’s payload module will travel to the Airbus Defence and Space facility in Toulouse, France, to be integrated with its service module – the segment of the satellite providing attitude and orbit control, electrical power and communications, and hosting the main computer.

The launch of MetOp-C by Soyuz from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana is scheduled for October 2018.

Credit: ESA/ETS – A Kuebler

Caravan on ice
11-01-2017 10:02 AM CET

europeanspaceagency posted a photo:

Caravan on ice

How do you deliver supplies to one of the remotest research stations on Earth? Put the equipment and food on skis and pull them by tractor across the ice and snow in a long caravan.

This image was taken by France’s Pleiades satellite orbiting 700 km high. The convoy of supplies can be seen on the 1000 km trek from Dumont d’Urville on the Antarctic coast to Concordia research station.

The traverse across Antarctica takes 10 days, climbing more than 3000 m to reach Concordia’s plateau. Pulled by heavy-duty tractors, the caravans carry up to 300 tonnes of fuel, food and heavy equipment in 300 m-long convoys organised by France’s IPEV polar institute.

Once at Concordia, three days are spent unpacking and preparing for the return trip. The trip back to the coast generally takes two days less because it is downhill most of the way.

Concordia sits on a plateau 3200 m above sea level. A place of extremes, temperatures can drop to –80°C in the winter, and the Sun does not rise above the horizon in the winter, forcing the crew to live in isolation without sunlight for four months of the year.

For ESA, the isolation and extreme weather offer interesting parallels with spaceflight and living on another planet. Each year an ESA-sponsored medical doctor joins the crew of the Italian–French station to monitor and run experiments on the crew of up to 15.

In addition, the area around Concordia is also used as a validation site for a number of ESA’s Earth observation missions such as the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity satellite.

ESA’s Didier Schmitt took part in this year’s traverse and is blogging about his experience.

Credit: Pléiades–CNES 2016, Distribution Airbus DS

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