When the Delta rocket carrying the first Meteosat lifted off from Cape Canaveral in November 1977, Europe gained the ability to gather weather data over its own territory with its own satellite. Meteosat began as a research program for a single satellite by the European Space Research Organisation, a predecessor of the European Space Agency (ESA).
Once the satellite was in orbit, the immense value of the images and data it provided led to the move from a research to an operational mission requiring a dedicated organization to conduct it. In anticipation of the founding of EUMETSAT, ESA launched the Meteosat Operational Program (MOP) in March 1983. This covered the construction and launch of three more Meteosat satellites and all operational activities until November 1995. EUMETSAT ultimately became reality in June 1986, with the operational provision of Meteosat images and data as its initial reason for existence.
From 1987, EUMETSAT took full financial and programming control over MOP, although ESA continued to manage the program on behalf of EUMETSAT, developing the space segment and procuring the satellites. Meteosat-4, EUMETSATs first operational satellite was launched in March 1989, followed over the next four and a half years by Meteosat-5 and Meteosat-6.
Between 2001 and 2007, Meteosat-6 provided EUMETSATs new rapid-scanning service, supplying frequent data of a smaller area to monitor the development of convective storms. Meanwhile, in May 1991, the Meteosat Transition Program (MTP) was initiated, with funding covering the construction, launch and operation of Meteosat-7. Launched in September 1997, Meteosat-7 was the last of the first generation of Meteosat satellites.
The first generation of seven Meteosat satellites brought major improvements to weather forecasting. But technological advances and increasingly sophisticated weather forecasting requirements created demand for more frequent, more accurate and higher resolution space observation.
To meet this demand, EUMETSAT launched the Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) program, in coordination with ESA, which developed the first satellite and procured all four with EUMETSAT funding. On August 28, 2002, EUMETSAT launched the first MSG satellite, renamed Meteosat-8 when it began routine operations to clearly maintain the link to earlier European weather satellites. It is the first of four MSG satellites, which are gradually replacing the original Meteosat series. It was followed on December 21, 2005 by the second MSG satellite, Meteosat-9, which currently provides the operational service over Europe with Meteosat-8 as backup. Meteosat-8 is preparing to take up rapid scanning as from spring 2008.
Together, the two satellites provide the operational service for Europe of a quality never before experienced from geosynchronous orbit. At the same time, work continues on MSG-3 and MSG-4, which are scheduled for launch in January 2011 and January 2013, respectively.
The first generation is still going strong
Meteosat-5 was only de-orbited recently in April 2007 after more than 15 years of operational service. The remaining Meteosats of the first generation (Meteosat-6 and Meteosat-7) are in orbit over the Indian Ocean as part of the World Meteorological Organizations Global Observing System. To enable Europe to meet its obligations to the Global Observing System, EUMETSAT and ESA are currently preparing for Meteosat Third Generation (MTG).
The capabilities of Meteosat are increasing with each generation to meet growing user requirements. The 800-kilogram MOP/MTP has one mission with its three-channel Meteosat Visible and Infrared Imager (MVIRI) and a repeat cycle of 30 minutes. The two-ton MSG conducts observation missions with its 12-channel Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager (SEVERI) with repeat cycles of 15 minutes in nominal mode and five minutes in rapid-scanning mode at extraordinarily high resolution (one kilometer for the High Resolution Channel from geostationary orbit). It also has the Geostationary Earth Radiation Budget (GERB) instrument for a dedicated climatology mission.
Unlike the two previous generations of Meteosat spinning satellites, the three-ton MTG will be three-axis stabilized and each satellite will have different payloads for four different observation missions. The first MTG satellite will carry a 16-channel combined imager capable of providing both full disk high spectral resolution imagery and fast imagery and, if approved, a lightening imager. The second MTG will have an infra-red sounder, and a possible chemistry mission using an Ultra Violet Sounder is also being coordinated with the European Space Agency for implementation via the Sentinel 4 satellite operating under the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security program.