Stevenage-based UK Space firm wins £138m European Space Agency contract for climate satellite

The European Space Agency has awarded a UK satellite builder a massive £138m (€160m) contract to build a new climate monitoring probe.

The FORUM satellite - short for Far-infrared Outgoing Radiation Understanding and Monitoring - will measure heat emitted from the Earth into space.

It will be the first satellite to observe Earth in the far-infrared part of the spectrum, providing unique measurements of the Earth’s outgoing energy to help improve understanding of the climate system.

The probe will enable scientists to compile a high-resolution view of the Earth’s greenhouse effect and the properties of ice clouds and water vapour in the atmosphere.

The satellite will be built in Stevenage by Airbus.

The Airbus-built FORUM satellite will be the first to observe Earth in the far-infrared part of the spectrum Credit: Airbus Defence and Space

Science Minister and Norfolk MP George Freeman described the project as an important mission which would improve the accuracy of climate forecasts.

He said it was "another illustration of UK space tech expertise".

"Scientists at Imperial College London provided key support to ESA in defining FORUM’s science objectives and the satellite is set to be built by Airbus in Stevenage," he added.

"This is a significant industrial contract which demonstrates the UK’s strengths in Earth observation technology and satellite manufacturing, as well as our global leadership in tackling climate change.”

Airbus Satellite

What sensors will the probe have?

The main instrument on FORUM will be a Fourier Transform Spectrometer (FTS).

The FTS is a measurement technique which collects measurements of a source of radiation.

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How will it work?

The Sun’s incoming shortwave radiation is absorbed at the Earth’s surface and re-emitted into space, through the atmosphere, at longer infrared wavelengths.

FORUM will measure the signature of this outgoing radiation, and will; allow researchers ro gather crucial information and understanding of water vapour, ice clouds, surface snow and ice, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.

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When will the Satellite launch?

The project to build the 883kg FORUM satellite will take several years to complete. It is scheduled to launch from Kourou, French Guiana in 2027.

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The Stevenage-based space firm is involved in a number of major projects. It is still hoping to launch its Mars Rover.

The ExoMars mission was a joint Russian ESA mission, but due to the ongoing war in Ukraine the mission has been suspended.

The Exomars elements are now being prepared for storage at a Thales Alenia Space site in Italy awaiting.

The company has also been involved in a number of other climate related missions including a satellite which will "weigh" the world's forests and was involved in the Copernicus project, a joint European Commission–ESA undertaking to gather data to provide services to improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change.