European Space Agency selects Airbus for space-based measurement of Earth’s heat emissions

STEVENAGE, UK – Airbus has been awarded a $168 million contract for the European Space Agency’s (ESA) FORUM satellite to measure the heat emitted by the Earth into space. FORUM, short for Far-infrared Outgoing Radiation Understanding and Monitoring, will be the first satellite to observe the Earth in the far infrared part of the spectrum. The onboard technology will provide measurements of Earth’s outgoing energy to better understand the climate system.

Measurements from FORUM’s spectrometer will allow scientists to create a high-resolution image of the Earth’s greenhouse effect and the properties of ice clouds and water vapor in the atmosphere. Airbus is mission prime with OHB providing the instrument.

Airbus in Stevenage will lead the development of the satellite, with Airbus in Germany responsible for the instrument signal detection chain and Airbus in France for platform product support.

The use of in-orbit proven technology will significantly reduce the risks and costs of the program. Avionics have been developed for the mission, validated and flown together on previous missions, which will enable savings in verification activities, software development and operational procedures.

The main instrument at FORUM will be a Fourier Transform Spectrometer operating in the far infrared. The incoming shortwave radiation from the sun 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, from which a crucial understanding of water vapor, ice clouds, surface snow and ice, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas characteristics can be derived. The satellite will also be equipped with a thermal imager for validation of soil samples.

The FORUM satellite will fly in loose formation in front of the MetOp-SG A1 satellite for synergistic observations using MetOp-SG A1’s infrared atmospheric-sounding interferometer. Using MetOp’s data at shorter infrared wavelengths will complement and enhance FORUM’s proprietary science.

Procurement of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be an important part of FORUM’s mission to further improve the space supply chain in ESA Member States. The 1,947 lb. FORUM satellite. will be in polar orbit at an altitude of 516 miles and is expected to launch in 2027 on a Vega-C launch vehicle from Kourou, French Guiana. FORUM will be the ninth Earth Explorer mission of ESA’s Future EO program.

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