UK-led mission to improve climate change forecasts added to European Space Agency programme

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Spacecraft launch
Spacecraft launch

A mission proposed by the UK Space Agency has been added to the European Space Agency’s Earth Watch programme, as the UK bids to host United Nations climate talks next year.

Space offers a unique vantage point from which to observe, measure and monitor the Earth’s climate. At the EU Competitiveness Council and EU-ESA Space Council on 28 May, Science Minister Chris Skidmore highlighted the importance of space as a green technology to tackle climate change and restated the UK’s desire to host the critical COP26 climate conference in 2020.

This new mission, conceived by the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) – a world leading centre for measurement science – and called TRUTHS, will improve confidence in climate change forecasts.

It will do this by creating a ‘climate and calibration laboratory in space’, making benchmark measurements, against which climate change trends can be detected quickly. It also allows other satellites such as those in Copernicus or emerging constellations to be rigorously re-calibrated in space, removing biases and facilitating a global interoperable ‘climate quality’ earth observing system.

TRUTHS stands for Traceable Radiometry Underpinning Terrestrial- and Helio- Studies. The spacecraft will carry a hyperspectral imager, an instrument which can measure incoming radiation from the Sun as well as radiation reflected back from the Earth in fine spectral detail, i.e. individual wavelengths like the colours of a rainbow.

NPL has developed a novel on board calibration system which is traceable to the SI (International System of Units) to ensure an unpresented level of accuracy.

Science Minister and interim Minister for Climate Change Chris Skidmore said: “Space technologies and satellite applications are key green technologies that allow us to observe the Earth and record changes to our climate. This new mission will allow scientists to more accurately calculate the energy absorbed and reflected by the Earth over a much shorter timescale than is currently possible.

“The UK Government is determined to be a world leader on climate change by supporting cutting-edge research and the space sector through our modern Industrial Strategy. We’ve made clear our desire to host the critical COP26 climate conference in 2020 – and announcements such as these demonstrate our commitment to tackling climate change.”

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