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Airbus awarded €160m satellite contract

By Sam Pither
29 June 2022
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Airbus’ Stevenage site will lead the development of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) FORUM Earth monitoring satellite in a €160 million (£138.1 million) contract.

FORUM, short for Far-infrared Outgoing Radiation Understanding and Monitoring, 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.

Measurements from FORUM’s spectrometer 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.

Jean-Marc Nasr, Head of Airbus Space Systems said: “This critical Earth observation mission to measure infrared radiation from the Earth for the first time, will give scientists and climatologists the data they need to improve their global warming forecasts.

“It builds on Airbus’ heritage in designing and manufacturing cost efficient small Earth observation missions including Sentinel-5P and is the sixth Airbus primed Earth Explorer mission for the European Space Agency.”

FORUM signature event at the House of Commons, London: (L-R) Josef Aschbacher - ESA Director General, Justin Byrne - Head of Earth Observation, Science and Exploration Airbus Defence and Space UK, Simonetta Cheli - ESA Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Philippe Pham - Head of Earth Observation and Science at Airbus, UK Science Minister - George Freeman

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 providing platform product support.

Using in-orbit proven technology will considerably reduce risk and costs on the programme. Avionics for the mission have been developed, validated and flown together on previous missions, which will enable savings in verification activities, software development and operating procedures.

Science Minister George Freeman said: “This important new mission to further improve the accuracy of climate forecasts and view our planet through new eyes is 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. 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.”

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The main instrument on FORUM will be a Fourier Transform Spectrometer operating in the far-infrared. 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, from which a crucial understanding of water vapour, 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 ground sample validation.

The FORUM satellite will fly in a loose formation ahead 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 further improve FORUM’s own science.

Simonetta Cheli, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, said, “We are thrilled to award the industrial contract to Airbus in the UK as Prime Contractor for FORUM, with OHB in Germany responsible for the instrument.

“FORUM adds to our highly successful family of Earth Explorer missions and, by acquiring novel information, will bring great benefits to climate science.”

Procurement from small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) will be a key element of the FORUM mission to further enhance the space supply chain across ESA member states.

The 883 kg FORUM satellite will be in a polar orbit at an altitude of 830 km and is scheduled to launch on a Vega-C launcher from Kourou, French Guiana in 2027. FORUM will be the 9th Earth Explorer mission of ESA’s Future EO Programme.

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Featured image: An artist's render of the FORUM Satellite. Credit: Airbus.