European space search for water launches

A satellite looking for water and monitoring climate change was successfully launched from northern Russia this morning (November 2).

The European Space Agency’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission was one of two launches carried out at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome launch pad at 1:50am local time.

It is the first ever satellite designed to both map sea surface salinity and monitor soil moisture on a global scale.

It features a unique ‘interferometric radiometer’ designed to carry out passive surveying of the water cycle between oceans, the atmosphere and land.

The ESA’s director general, Jean-Jacques Dordain, said: “We are extremely pleased with this double ‘lucky strike’ that will provide Europe with new tools to better understand our planet and climate change.

“As well as new technology breakthroughs that will enhance the competitiveness of European industry on the world-wide market, thus contributing to the global economy.”

SMOS is a 658-kg satellite developed by ESA in cooperation with France’s CNES and Spain’s Centro para el Desarrollo Tecnológico Industrial (CDTI).

It is based on the Proteus small satellite platform designed and built by Thales Alenia Space and its payload is composed of a single instrument, the Microwave Imaging Radiometer using Aperture Synthesis (MIRAS), developed by EADS CASA Espacio.

MIRAS is an interferometer that connects together 69 receivers mounted on three deployable arms to measure the temperature of the reflection of the earth’s surface in the microwave frequency range.

This temperature is linked to both the actual temperature of the surface and its conductive characteristics, which are in turn linked to soil moisture for land surface and to water salinity for sea surface.

Luke Walsh

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