June 18, 2024

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Earthcare cloud mission launched to solve unknown climate problems

Earthcare cloud mission launched to solve unknown climate problems

Comment on the photo, Artwork: It took all of 20 years to get Earthcare into space

A sophisticated joint European-Japanese satellite has been launched to measure how clouds affect the climate.

Some low-level clouds are known to cool the planet, and others at high altitudes will act as a blanket.

The Earthcare mission will use lasers and radar to probe the atmosphere to find out exactly where the equilibrium is.

It is one of the largest uncertainties in computer models used to predict how the climate will respond to increasing levels of greenhouse gases.

“Many of our models suggest that cloud cover will disappear in the future, meaning clouds will reflect less sunlight back into space, more will be absorbed at the surface, and that will act as an amplifier for the warming we will get from carbon dioxide,” said Dr. Robin Hogan. , from the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, told BBC News.

The 2.3-ton satellite was sent from California on a SpaceX rocket.

The project is being led by the European Space Agency (Esa), which has described it as the organisation’s most complex Earth observation project to date.

Certainly, the technical challenge of making the tools work as intended was enormous. It took a full 20 years to go from mission approval to launch.

Comment on the photo, Clouds play an essential role in the energy balance on Earth’s surface

Earthcare will orbit Earth at an altitude of about 400 kilometers (250 miles).

The simplest is the imager — a camera that takes pictures of the scene passing beneath the spacecraft to give context to the measurements made by the other three instruments.

Earthcare’s European ultraviolet laser will see thin, high clouds and cloud tops below. It will also detect small particles and droplets (aerosols) in the atmosphere that influence cloud formation and behavior.

Japanese radar will look at the clouds to determine how much water they carry and how it falls in the form of rain, hail and snow.

The radiometer will sense how much energy falling on Earth from the sun is reflected or radiated back into space.

Comment on the photo, The ground care is approximately 2.5 meters wide and 3.5 meters deep. Its solar array (not shown in photo) is 11 meters long

Dr Helen Brindley from the UK’s National Center for Earth Observation said: “It’s the balance between this total amount of outgoing radiation and the amount coming in from the sun that fundamentally drives our climate.”

“If we change this balance, for example by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, we reduce the amount of energy going out compared to what is coming in and we warm the climate.”

In addition to the long-term climate perspective, Earthcare data will be used here and now to improve weather forecasts. For example, how a storm develops will be affected by the initial state of its clouds as observed by the satellite days before.

Comment on the photo, Earthcare observations of clouds will also help with current weather forecasts

He said seeing the satellite finally fly was a dream come true: “It has been a long and challenging journey with an amazing team of dedicated scientists and engineers from the UK and beyond. Together, we have created something truly remarkable that will make a difference.” The way we understand our planet.”

One of the main technical challenges has been space-based lasers, or LIDAR.

Developer Airbus-France had a difficult time coming up with a design that would operate reliably in the vacuum of space. A fundamental reconfiguration of the instrument was needed, which not only led to delays but added significantly to the final cost of the mission, today estimated at around €850 million (£725 million).

Comment on the photo, Saharan dust: The laser will study how small particles affect cloud formation

“These are not missions that you put out to be cheap and quick to solve small problems; they are complex,” said Dr. Beth Greenaway, head of the Earth Program. “The reason it takes so long to take care of Earth is because we want the gold standard.” Observation at the British Space Agency.

Earthcare won’t have long to collect its data. Flying at an altitude of 400 kilometers means that it will feel the drag of the remaining atmosphere at that altitude. This will pull the satellite down.

“It has three years’ worth of fuel with another year in reserve. It’s basically limited in its lifetime by its low orbit and the drag there,” said Dr. Michael Eisinger of the European Space Agency.

Comment on the photo, The Japanese Space Agency named the mission “Hakuryu” or “White Dragon.”

The Japanese Aerospace Agency (JAXA), due to its strong interest in the mission, will follow its usual practice of giving the spacecraft a nickname – “Hakuryu” or “White Dragon.”

In Japanese mythology, dragons are ancient divine creatures who control the water and fly in the sky. This year, 2024, is also the year of the Japanese Dragon, known as “Tatsu Doshi.”

There is also a connection in the satellite appearance, which is covered in white insulation and has a long trailing solar panel that resembles a tail.

“Caring for the Earth, like a dragon rising into space, will become an entity that envisions the future for us,” said Ichi Tomita, JAXA Project Manager.