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Contact: Karina De Castris
European Space Agency

Countdown for Europe's latest weather eye

Click here for a high resolution photograph.

Europe's newest weather satellite is being prepared for launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket on 21 December.

The second Meteosat Second Generation (MSG-2) spacecraft will be placed in a geostationary orbit at an altitude of 35,600 km above the equator. From this orbit, the cylinder-shaped MSG-2 will be able to observe the changing weather over one third of the Earth's surface, including Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Over an operational lifetime of seven years, the satellite's advanced imaging system will send back detailed images of weather patterns one every 15 minutes.

Many of these will be infrared (heat) images that tell forecasters about the temperatures of clouds, land and sea surfaces.

The 2-tonne MSG-2 also carries an instrument that enables scientists to work out whether our planet is cooling or heating up. A third payload helps search and rescue services by relaying signals from aircraft and ships in distress.

Once MSG-2 becomes operational, it will be renamed Meteosat-9. It will join MSG-1 (now known as Meteosat-8), which was launched in August 2002 and declared operational in January 2004.

One of these satellites will be used as Europe's main weather eye at 0 degrees longitude - above equatorial West Africa. The other will remain on stand-by in case a problem occurs with its twin.

MSG-2 is the latest in a long line of weather satellites built by ESA since 1977. Once in orbit, it will be operated by EUMETSAT - the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites.