The European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Aeolus satellite soared into space on 22 August for a three-year mission to monitor wind around the globe.
Aeolus is the world’s first wind-mapping satellite, and launched atop a Vega rocket from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana. Mission controllers will spend the next several months calibrating the spacecraft's instruments, including an ultraviolet laser system which will measure the speed and direction of winds in the atmosphere’s lowermost 30 kilometres.
ESA approved the Aeolus mission in 1999, but development of the satellite’s instruments took much longer than expected. The complexity of building a powerful ultraviolet laser that could operate in a vacuum was the main issue.
Once Aeolus starts its scientific observations, data from the mission will be incorporated into numerical weather predictions to improve forecasts from national weather agencies.