A new satellite that will use advanced laser technology to track global winds and improve weather forecasts has been successfully brought into orbit around the Earth, Arianespace said.
The launch of the "Aeolus" satellite – named after the guardian of the wind in Greek mythology – took place at 2120 GMT on Wednesday, after a 24-hour delay due to adverse weather conditions.
Lightweight vehicle from Arianespace "Vega raised his passenger during a flight of just under 55 minutes, where Aeolus was placed in a synchronous orbit around the sun", the company said after the launch.
Sun-synchronous orbits allow satellites to always view the sun, for example, so that their solar panels can always draw power.
The satellite "will investigate the deepest 30 kilometers (18 miles) of the atmosphere when measuring winds around the earth," Arianespace said.
Aeolus is part of the Copernicus project, a joint initiative of the European Union and the European Space Agency (ESA) to monitor environmental damage and support disaster relief operations.
The satellite is equipped with a single instrument: a Doppler windlidar – an advanced laser system designed to accurately measure global wind patterns from space.
"The near-real-time observations of the LIDAR will provide reliable wind profiles, further improving the accuracy of numerical weather and climate prediction, and improving understanding of tropical dynamics and processes relevant to climate variability," Arianespace said after the launch.
It described the satellite as the world's first space mission to gather information about the wind from the earth on a global scale.
Especially tropical winds are very badly mapped because of the almost complete absence of direct observations.
The Doppler lidar emits short, powerful pulses of laser light to the earth in the ultraviolet spectrum. Particles in the air – moisture, dust, gases – reflect or disperse a small part of that light energy back to the transceiver, where it is collected and recorded.
The delay between the outgoing pulse and the so-called "backscattered" signal reveals the direction, speed and distance traveled by the wind.
Once per track, the data is downloaded to a ground station in Svalbard, Norway.
Aeolus is the fifth of Earth's planned Earth Explorer missions.
Others who are already finished or in operation have measured the gravity and geomagnetic fields of the earth, soil moisture, salinity of the ocean and frozen plains that are collectively known as the cryosphere.
The new mission is also the 50th launch of Arianespace for the European Space Agency.