A new era in global meteorological forecasting has begun with the launch of the first of five EADS Astrium state-of-the-art microwave humidity sounder (MHS) instruments on board the US polar orbiting satellite NOAA-N. The contract was awarded by EUMETSAT and the microwave sounders will form part of the instrument suite on three European (METOP) spacecraft and two US (NOAA) spacecraft being launched between 2005 and 2015.

The sounders scan the Earth’s atmosphere to measure emitted radiation in various spectra bands and from this can determine the water vapour content (clouds, precipitation, humidity) at various altitudes. Each MHS instrument weighs 63 kg and occupies only a 0.8 m3 on the spacecraft. By adopting a common suite of instruments on both sets of spacecraft, data utilisation is vastly simplified. Data from the instruments will be provided to several meteorological organisations across the world (UK Met Office, Meteo France and USA National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration NOAA), significantly enhancing their databases and enabling more accurate weather forecasting.

The development is pan-European as EADS Astrium, with its experience and expertise in microwave radiometry undertook the overall instrument design, final assembly and testing in Portsmouth, UK; the receiver and electronics in Vélizy and Toulouse, France; the scan mechanism in Friedrichshafen, Germany; and the Q-band source oscillators in Stevenage, UK.