Tuesday

18th Sep 2018

Interview

European wind satellite in orbit: The launch of a life's work

  • Aeolus was launched successfully on Wednesday, after a one-day postponement because of bad weather conditions (Photo: ESA)

The European Space Agency's Aeolus satellite, with a unique wind-profiling laser instrument on board, was successfully launched on Wednesday (22 August) from the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

"It was a really special moment," said Dutch meteorologist Ad Stoffelen, who has been involved in the project for more than two decades.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Stoffelen has spent decades on the laser instrument which went into space (Photo: Peter Teffer)

"I fully realised that the satellite that we had built was in there," he said about the Vega-rocket which was launched at 11:20PM Brussels time.

The idea of putting a satellite in orbit to improve wind measurements by using laser has a long history.

It dates back to the Ronald Reagan presidency years in the 1980s and his Strategic Defence Initiative – or Star Wars.

While the weaponised space lasers were never deployed, the plan did stimulate thinking about civil applications.

Ideas crossed the Atlantic to Europe. Stoffelen was asked to work on it as well and co-authored a report in 1998 which promoted the concept of a wind-measuring satellite.

ESA and its member states decided to go ahead and order the laser satellite, but at the time the instrument did not exist yet.

"Laser technology was not mature at all," Stoffelen told EUobserver.

"Everyone knew that they were taking a risk. But the industrial partners were confident that it would work," he noted.

Stoffelen became a member of ESA's mission advisory group.

But the concept was difficult to realise and the development took much longer than excepted.

The launch on Wednesday was 11 years later than originally foreseen. The total cost of the entire operation was €480m.

But Stoffelen said he never doubted the project.

"We continuously encountered a problem, found a solution for it, and then encountered a new problem," he said.

"It was slow, but there was always progress," he said.

Although the satellite is now in orbit, it will take some time before scientists on Earth can conclude if it is producing useful data.

The expectation is that it will provide wind patterns that can help improve weather forecasts, but will also be useful for climate research.

In the end it is a proof of concept.

Is there a chance that the instrument does not produce useful data, EUobserver asked?

"I am not saying that I don't allow for that possibility. But on the other hand: we have worked really hard to rule that out," said Stoffelen.

The Dutch researcher is already thinking about the next steps.

The Aeolus has a scheduled operational period of just 3.5 years – although it could be longer – and would not be a permanent system.

That, Stoffelen believed, would require global cooperation.

"I think it is an enormous achievement by Europe and by ESA that we built this," he said.

He said that he had been receiving good-luck messages from American colleagues because they know that if this works, there is a higher chance that they could convince politicians there to invest in a similar project.

How to coordinate such international cooperation is something Stoffelen will be considering in the near future.

The 56-year old meteorologist spent more than half his career involved in the project.

"My life work is being launched," he had written on Facebook ahead of the launch.

EUobserver spoke to Stoffelen again a few hours after the launch.

"It was really overwhelming," he said, smiling broadly.

But there was still one task left – the satellite still had to turn on its solar array.

Some time after the second interview, a colleague came up to Stoffelen to let him know that this had also been achieved.

"Excellent," he told this colleague. "We have power, excellent!"

EU's new strategy shuns space exploration

The commission wants to focus on the commercial potential of space rather than the educational or scientific benefits, much to the annoyance of some MEPs.

News in Brief

  1. EU investigating BMW, Daimler and VW 'collusion'
  2. Spain wants special Gibraltar chapter in Brexit deal
  3. Italy cancels Vienna talks over South Tyrol 'dual citizenship'
  4. Britain will not accept Brexit deal with Irish Sea border
  5. Slovakia seeks witness to journalist killing
  6. Finland's Stubb considers running for EU commission job
  7. Romania ponders anti same-sex marriage referendum
  8. EU lawyers back Slovenia in Croatia border dispute

Focus

EU-China cooperation on CO2 storage lost in limbo

A long-standing cooperation between the EU and China on carbon capture and storage has fallen off the political agenda – with the European Commission not having any comment available when asked for an update.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  4. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  5. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  6. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  7. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  8. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  9. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  10. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  12. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want

Latest News

  1. EU promotes 'Egypt model' to reduce migrant numbers
  2. Tensions mount over Kosovo-Serbia deal
  3. New book: Why war is coming
  4. EU parliament will not budge on office expenses
  5. Why Orban's project to reshape EU politics will be unsuccessful
  6. 10 years after Lehman Brothers what has changed for EU consumers?
  7. Sefcovic launches bid to be EU Commission president
  8. Is Russia blackmailing the Council of Europe?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  4. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  5. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  8. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  10. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us