China launches Fengyun weather satellite into polar orbit – Spaceflight Now

A Chinese Long March 4C rocket takes off with the Fengyun 3E weather satellite. Credit: Xinhua

A new Chinese Fengyun weather satellite was launched on Sunday and flew into a polar orbit early in the morning to feed data into global computer models, adding data that international weather officials say will improve medium and long-term forecasts. .

The Fengyun 3E satellite entered orbit on top of a Long March 4C rocket at 7:28 p.m. EDT on Sunday (11:28 p.m. GMT; 7:28 a.m. Monday in Beijing), according to China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., or CASC, the main state contractor. for the Chinese space program.

The three-stage Long March 4C rocket took off from Jiuquan spaceport in the Inner Mongolia region of northwest China. The liquid-fuel launcher flew south of Jiuquan before releasing the Fengyun 3E weather satellite into a polar orbit about 800 kilometers above Earth.

China has launched the approximately 2.5-ton Fengyun 3E satellite into an orbit that flies along the terminator, or the line between the day and night sides of the Earth. Fengyun 3E crosses the equator early in the morning local time, making it the first civilian weather satellite to launch directly into an orbital plane early in the morning.

The Chinese Meteorological Administration has said that Fengyun 3E, designed for a lifespan of at least eight years, will fill a gap in the early morning orbit. There are aging US military DMSP weather satellites in a similar orbit, but they are well past their expected lifespan and no more DMSP satellites are scheduled for launch.

Chinese officials said the Fengyun 3E satellite joins two other Chinese polar-orbiting weather observatories, Fengyun 3C and Fenygun 3D, flying into orbit mid-morning and afternoon. Together, the satellites provide global weather measurements to power digital weather forecast models at six-hour intervals.

The United States, China and Europe operate the majority of the world’s weather satellites.

Polar-orbiting satellites provide measurements to improve medium- and long-range forecasts, while weather observatories in geosynchronous orbit more than 22,000 miles (nearly 36,000 kilometers) above the equator take measurements and critical images for tracking severe storms and tropical cyclones.

Phil Evans, managing director of the European Meteorological Satellite Agency, agreed that the presence of Fengyun 3E in a morning orbit fills a “significant orbit gap internationally.”

“With its modern payload, which includes advanced instruments, such as the atmospheric vertical sounder, the FY-3E will bring benefits to the entire global user community,” Evans said in a statement. “Given its unique orbit, FY-3E would have a direct and positive impact on global numerical weather forecasting, as demonstrated by numerous studies, carried out by partner agencies within the framework of the Coordination Group for Meteorological Satellites, CGMS. “

Eumetsat, the European meteorological satellite agency, is responsible for the flight of meteorological satellites into polar orbit by mid-morning. NOAA operates US satellites in afternoon orbit. The addition of a Chinese satellite to early morning orbit gives forecasters around the world an overview of critical weather data three times a day.

“Now, with the advent of FY-3E, the CMA will become the third pillar of the global meteorological constellation in polar orbit,” said Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization. “I look forward to seeing data from this new satellite and CMA’s continued long-term commitment to providing tracking missions for this orbit.”

Weather data collected from early morning satellite passes will help meteorologists monitor tropical cyclones, fog, fires, air quality and provide measurements for more comprehensive climate data records. The early morning orbit also gives precipitation monitoring a boost, according to Taalas.

Test team members pose with the Fengyun 3E weather satellite prior to launch. Credit: SITP / Chinese Academy of Sciences

Fengyun 3E houses 11 payloads, including three brand new weather monitoring instruments, according to CMA.

The satellite payload includes microwave and infrared sounders to measure temperature and humidity profiles in the atmosphere, an instrument to derive atmospheric conditions and ocean winds using reflected navigation satellite signals , and a spectral imager to observe clouds and measure sea surface temperatures, a development of cyclones.

There is also a suite of five space weather instruments, including monitors to measure the sun’s energy output and photometers to measure how solar activity affects the environment around Earth.

One of the new instruments debuting on Fengyun 3E is WindRad, a radar for measuring the direction and speed of winds near the ocean surface.

“We therefore anticipate a significant contribution from the observations collected by FY-3E to global weather forecasting skills,” said Florence Rabier, director general of the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, which runs one of the main models. global forecasting to the world.

Rabier said the European and Chinese agencies have a cooperation agreement to jointly assess the value of Fengyun 3E’s new instruments and its morning orbit.

“This includes jointly assessing the quality of new observations and their impact on the accuracy of numerical weather forecasts,” she said.

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