Astrium has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) to supply the MicroWave Sounder (MWS) instruments for the MetOp Second Generation series of satellites (MetOp-SG). The contract for the MWS instruments, worth up to €155.5 million, has been awarded to Astrium in the UK and the satellites will be operated by EUMETSAT, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.

The MWS instrument is the follow-on to the highly successful MicroWave Humidity Sounder (MHS), also primed from Astrium in Portsmouth and currently flying on the first generation MetOp missions. The new generation of instruments will provide a much higher level of performance over a greater spectral range. The instrument delivers atmospheric temperature and water vapour information for use in Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) forecasts enabling short term weather forecasts to be made with greater accuracy.

There will be a minimum of two MWS instruments, each with a mission life of 7.5 years. A team of 40 at Astrium in Portsmouth will develop the MWS instruments together with 15 major sub-contractors across the UK and Europe. In the UK key contributions to the programme will also be made by SEA Ltd, STFC/RAL, JCR Systems Ltd and Queens University in Belfast, together with other opportunities for UK companies to bid to provide equipment/services. ESA has the option of ordering a third instrument, to ensure that the MWS instruments will provide accurate forecasting data until 2040 and beyond. The first MetOp SG satellite is due to be launched in 2021.

Astrium UK Managing Director, Colin Paynter, said: “This contract is a direct result of the government increasing its ambition in space which has allowed our great innovation and engineering talent to have a route to market. It builds on Astrium’s proven expertise in meteorological and space-borne instruments, and is great news for the UK team. The unique experience built up in developing and manufacturing the microwave instruments for the current MetOp satellites firmly put Portsmouth as one of the world leaders in this area.”

UK Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said: “This substantial contract shows that the UK’s increased investment in the European Space Agency is already paying dividends and getting us ahead in the global race and the space race. It confirms our space industry’s world-class position and will see Astrium working with other leading businesses, scientists and engineers to develop cutting edge satellite technology.”