METEOSAT 8 satellite image
EUMETSAT, the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, is an intergovernmental organization based in Darmstadt. As the importance of weather satellites grew continually, it was established in 1986 to safeguard continuity in that field separately from the European Space Organization (ESA) which, being a research and development organization, is primarily concerned with new technologies. Initially restricted to weather satellites, EUMETSAT's mandate was enlarged in 2000 to include monitoring climate change.
Europe acquired its own geostationary weather satellites - called METEOSAT - as early as 1977. The first generation of the METEOSAT family consisted of seven satellites that were very largely based on the same technology. Of this first generation, the last satellite that is still active, METEOSAT 7, is currently operated above the Indian Ocean to close an observational gap there.
The first satellite of the METEOSAT Second Generation (MSG) was launched in 2002; the second followed in December 2005, and the third in July 2012. Ever since then, these satellites, METEOSAT 8, 9 and 10, have been acting as 'workhorses' for meteorological services. Continuously observing both Europe and Africa, they supply data whose quality is markedly superior to that of the first METEOSAT generation. To ensure uninterrupted service, there are never less than two active METEOSAT satellites in orbit (in-orbit redundancy). The last second-generation METEOSAT satellite is scheduled to be launched in 2015.
The third generation of METEOSAT satellites (METEOSAT Third Generation, MTG) is expected to take over the primary, operational service as of 2019. MTG comprises two types of satellites: an "Imager" (MTG-I) that ensures continuity of the current METEOSAT series, and a "Sounder" (MTG-S), which will provide new and globally unique data. At the moment, EUMETSAT and ESA are in the development and production phase (Phase C/D).
The EUMETSAT Polar System
The EUMETSAT Polar System (EPS) constitutes Europe's contribution to the system of polar orbiting meteorological satellites which is being run in collaboration with the USA. The first EPS satellite, METOP-A, was launched from Baikonur on a Soyuz rocket on October 19, 2006. After extensive testing, it was officially commissioned on 15 May 2007. METOP-B was launched in September 2012 and is now the primary satellite. The launch of the third METOP Satellite is planned for 2018. The current system will be replaced in 2021 by a successor that is named EPS-SG (Second Generation).
Because of their much lower orbital height - 817 kilometers as opposed to c. 36.000 kilometers in geostationary satellites - METOP satellites are capable of measuring a multitude of parameters with a much greater precision than geostationary satellites. As they fly over the polar regions of the earth, they supply weather forecasters with important observations from regions that are inadequately covered by geostationary satellites.
Cooperation with ESA
EUMETSAT conducts its meteorological programs in close cooperation with ESA. EUMETSAT is responsible for the overall system as well as for identifying user requirements, developing the ground segment, operating the satellites and procuring launchers, besides contributing to the funding of related ESA programs. For its part, ESA is responsible for elaborating the concepts of the satellites as well as for developing and building them. In addition, it acts as a procurement agency for any additional satellites. The two programs at EUMETSAT and ESA are formally merged in the framework of a cooperation agreement.