EUMETSAT, “the other” European space agency

The weather is an inexhaustible subject of conversation… and of concern, especially since weather conditions have a direct impact on the economic activities of the Earth’s human population. Not surprisingly then, many of the satellites that study our planet focus on the Earth’s atmosphere, composition and evolution, as well as on its oceans, which are real drivers of the weather we experience right now – and will do in the future.

©Eumesat EUMETSAT, “the other” European space agency

It only has to rain a little and road traffic is disrupted. After a period of drought, agriculture suffers and forests are exposed to increased risk of fire. Violent winds affect the activities of merchant and fishing vessels. Meteorology has become an operational science that nobody can do without and Europeans have taken this fact fully on board. After ESA (founded in 1975), a second primarily operational European space agency, called the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), was set up in 1986.

Its mission is to supply satellite data, images and products 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to the national weather services of its Member States, Cooperating States (see box), as well as to numerous public users (UNESCO, FAO, UNEP, WMO, NOAA, ECMWF) and private users the world over.

From its operational headquarters in Germany the agency exploits the data from its own satellites (Meteosat and Metop), as well as from a series of specialised centres, called SAF (Satellite Application Facilities). These satellite application facilities are devoted to such areas as digital weather forecasting (coordinated by the British Met Office), operational hydrology (the Italian weather service), the oceans and sea ice (Météo-France) or monitoring the ozone level (Finnish weather service), climate surveillance (German weather service) or nowcasting – forecasting the weather immediately expected, usually within 0-12 hours (coordinated by the Spanish meteorological institute).

A variety of instruments in orbit

In addition to the conventional weather satellites placed in geostationary orbit 36 000 km above the Earth’s surface (first and second generation Meteosat satellites), which enable us to observe half of the face of the Earth, since last year EUMETSAT has been operating its first polar-orbiting satellite, Metop-A. This satellite orbits closer to Earth (850 km) and, thanks to its eight scientific instruments, it supplies much more accurate data on clouds, humidity and temperatures in the atmosphere, vertical temperature resolution in the upper troposphere, wind speed close to the surface of oceans, and the evolution of ozone and other constituents of the troposphere and stratosphere.

The Jason-2 ocean altimetry satellite, developed jointly by France and NASA (USA), will soon be operational in orbit (2008). It will supply EUMETSAT computers with data on fluctuations in sea and ocean surface height, with an accuracy of within one centimetre.



Twenty plus ten

EUMETSAT is supported by 20 Member States: Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

It also receives funding from ten Cooperating States: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovenia. Cooperating States have the same rights and obligations as the other members as regards access to and use of the Agency’s data and services. However, they each pay only half the membership fee of full members, which means they are not entitled to take part in the decision-making process or to answer calls for tender, and their nationals may not apply for jobs with EUMETSAT. The Agency’s headquarters is at Darmstadt (Germany).


Weather satellites in operation worldwide (according to EUMETSAT, May 2007)


Meteosat-5: in graveyard orbit(1) since 16 April 2007.
Meteosat-6: geostationary reserve satellite at 67.5°E since 26 April 2007 to capture DCP data during Meteosat-7 eclipse periods.
Meteosat-7: ives data coverage of the Indian Ocean (IODC) at 57.5°E (at least until the end of 2008).
Meteosat-8: Meteosat-9 reserve satellite at 3.4°W (geostationary orbit).
Meteosat-9: primary geostationary satellite at 0°.
MSG-3 et MSG-4: launches planned in 2011 and 2013 respectively.
Metop-A: first near-polar orbiting satellite, launched on 19 October 2006. Declared officially operational on 15 May 2007. Metop-A is the primary satellite of the Initial Joint Polar System (IJPS), which has been in orbit from mid-morning since 21 May 2007. Metop-B and Metop-C have been placed in storage until they are launched in 2011 and 2015 respectively.
Jason-2: the successor to Jason-1 whose mission is to measure sea surface height. The plan is to launch it in mid-2008 on a circular, non-sun-synchronous orbit with an inclination of 66°.

United States:

GOES-9 currently positioned at 160°E.
GOES-10 positioned at 60°W to complete coverage of South America.
GOES-11 operational geostationary satellite at 135°W.
GOES-12 operational geostationary satellite at 75°W.
GOES-13 launched in May 2006; reserve satellite at 105°W.
GOES-O, -P, -R, -S launches planned in 2008, 2009, 2014 and 2016 respectively, to provide a service at 135° or 75°W.
NOAA-12 satellite in morning polar orbit for real-time data transmission only.
NOAA-14 satellite in morning polar orbit for real-time data transmission only.
NOAA-15 reserve satellite for NOAA-17 (early-morning or bit).
NOAA-16 reserve satellite for NOAA-18 (afternoon orbit).
NOAA-17 satellite in morning polar orbit.
NOAA-18 first satellite of the IJPS system, which has replaced NOAA-16 as the primary satellite in afternoon orbit.
NOAA-N ’ launch planned in 2009 to take over the afternoon orbit service.
NPP-NPOESS launch planned in 2009 to take over the afternoon orbit service.
NPOESS-C1 and – C3 launches planned in 2013 and 2020 (afternoon orbit).
NPOESS-C2 and – C4 launches planned in 2016 and 2022 (early-morning orbit).


Meteor-3M N1 operated on a morning sun-synchronous orbit.
GOMS-N1 launched in November 1994, on standby at 76° E.
Meteor-M N1 launches planned in 2008 and 2009 (morning orbit).
Electro-L N1 launch planned in 2007 at 76°E.
Electro-L N2 launch planned in 2009 at 76°E or 14.5°E.


Fengyun-1D (FY-1D) primary weather satellite launched in May 2002, operated on an early-morning sun-synchronous (polar) orbit.
FY-2C primary geostationary satellite at 105° E.
FY-2D to be launched in December 2006 as a reserve for the FY-2C satellite at 86.5° E.
FY-2E, -2F and -2G launches in 2008, 2010 and 2012 respectively.
FY-3A first model of China’s second-generation near-polar orbiting satellites. It will be launched in 2007, and the following two (FY-3B and FY–3C) in 2009 and 2011.


KALPANA-1: (former Metsat), positioned at 74° E; first Indian dedicated weather satellite.
• INSAT-3A: operated at 93.5° E.
• INSAT-3D: launch planned in late 2007 or early 2008.

South Korea:

COMS-1 et -2: the launches of these two multimission satellites for meteorology, ocean observation and telecommunications applications are planned in 2008 and in 2014. The satellites will be operated at 116.2 or 128.2° E.


MTSAT-1R: operational at 140° E since 28 June 2005.
MTSAT-2: launched on 18 February 2006, it is on standby at 145° E. The following satellites will be launched in 2013 and 2015.

(1) Graveyard orbit: when a satellite on a useful orbit (such as the highly sought-after geostationary orbit) reaches the end of its life, it is shunted onto a cemetery orbit situated tens or even hundreds of kilometres above geostationary orbit. Satellite administrators thus use up the last few drops of fuel for this final voyage. This presents the advantage not only of freeing space for a new satellite but also of preventing the residual fuel in the decommissioned satellite from causing an untimely explosion in orbit, which would add new space junk.