UK Space Agency gives £600,000 to new climate sensor

climate sensor, satellite
© Rangizzz

The funding is going to a new climate sensor that can track weather patterns with four times more sensitivity

The £600,000 funding will go from the UK Space Agency to the Science and Technologies Facilities Council. The RAL Space team will be using this money to create an early prototype of a new class of climate sensor small enough to be put onboard a nano-satellite, a compact form of technology which itself weighs less than 10kg.

Satellites give us over 90% of the data that explains weather patterns, which is essential not only to avoid being soaked on the way to work but for farmers, those living in wildfire regions and anyone who lives in a food insecure region.

Graham Turnock, CEO, UK Space Agency, commented to Open Access Government: “As space technology becomes more ubiquitous, we become more dependent as a nation on having reliable access to it.

“The sustainability and protection of space has always been an essential consideration as the sector grows, which is why we are the largest investor in space safety in the European Space Agency.”

The Hyperspectral Microwave Sounder (HYMS)

The proposed sensor would be four times more sensitive than the technology that exists to track weather right now. RAL Space explain that it would use 1000 sampling channels, where weather satellites in orbit right now are using 24. Channels give satellites the capacity to observe the atmosphere at different altitudes, which means that an increased number of channels would increase accuracy.

The HYMS climate sensor would be able to fly on much cheaper, smaller satellites – meaning that more of them could go out into orbit, where it costs significantly more to launch a larger satellite housing the larger, current climate sensors. The sensor also needs 50 times less hardware to support it, freeing up a lot of physical space and time for the researchers.

The possibilities of better weather tracking

Glacial melting is one of the huge markers of climate change as it stands, with hundreds of concentrated research projects tracking the progress of the world’s largest ice shelves. NASA are involved in helping to understand how melting ice could impact populations, animals and the world’s temperature, via the use of satellite imagery relayed in real time.

Tracking minute changes in the weather could help to create a rich pool of atmospheric data, that can then predict incoming temperature changes. Rising sea levels change the ecological balance for fish, which are essential to the food security of local populations. One example of this can be seen in Bangladesh, a largely marine-dependent country in South Asia, which is seeing unprecedented levels of flooding that are wiping out low socio-economic areas. This devastation can be foreseen with a better climate sensor.

This could be the difference between loss of livelihoods, and adapting to a rapidly changing global climate.

‘Could radically improve understanding of the climate’

Dr Manju Henry, Senior Systems Engineer and HYMS lead, RAL Space said: “Improving our understanding of the atmosphere’s temperature and moisture is one of the fundamental requirements to forecasting and mitigating the impacts of extreme weather events and climate change.

“We’re excited to have the opportunity to accelerate the development of the HYMS sensor. The sensor could radically improve weather forecasting capability and our understanding of our planet’s climate.

“This project will provide the foundations to launch a constellation of satellites to provide of weather and climate data globally.”


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