UK at start of 'exciting journey' into space
4 March 2009
A major new centre for Earth observation is launched today by Science Minister Lord Drayson.
The GOCE satellite, due to launch 16 March.
The National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) will bring together the UK's space experts to focus on the planet's biggest environmental challenges.
The launch is the start of a busy year for UK space science. Britain is a major investor in the European Space Agency which plans to launch three Earth observation satellites in 2009. the first scheduled for 16 March.
Speaking at the launch at the Royal Institution in London, Lord Drayson said, 'Society is relying on science for answers to the most complex and daunting environmental challenges facing the planet. The launch of the National Centre for Earth Observation represents the UK's determination to use the full potential of space technology for environmental research and make the most of this country's considerable expertise.
Cryosat-2, scheduled to launch in 2009, will measure sea ice thickness in unprecedented detail.
'Satellites offer a unique perspective on the interconnected processes that are shaping our world. '
With a budget of £33 million, NCEO involves more than 100 investigators from 26 UK universities and research centres. It will bring together seismologists, oceanographers and computer modellers to analyse data generated from British satellites and from European Space Agency programmes.
'I'm pleased to report that the NCEO will provide an essential national resource for the European Space Agency's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security programme.'
The UK government has recently committed £82 million to the programme.
'In short, this centre will help to understand and tackle some of the biggest global challenges of the 21st Century.'
The NCEO already has a leading scientific role in developing two of the three missions in the final selection stage for European Space Agency's Earth observation programme, the Earth Explorer missions.
'This is the beginning of a very exciting journey.'
Professor Alan O'Neill, Director, National Centre for Earth Observation.
If successful, the BIOMASS mission will monitor for the first time the global distribution of forest biomass. The aim is to reduce uncertainties in the calculations of carbon stocks and movements.
The 'PREMIER' mission will evaluate the processes controlling the composition of the atmosphere between 5 and 25 kilometres above the surface of the Earth. This is an important area for climate research.
NCEO - a Natural Environment Research Council centre, has seven main themes: climate, the carbon cycle, hazardous weather, the atmosphere, the poles, data assimilation, and earthquakes and volcanic activity.
NCEO director Professor Alan O'Neill said, 'We can now detect very small changes and virtually see the Earth's 'skin' crinkling as stresses build up, so we can judge whether an earthquake will occur or a volcano might erupt. We can predict which areas will be most affected and advise how to minimise the impacts on life and property. '
He added, 'This is the beginning of a very exciting journey as Earth observation from space has never been more important. It is a vital tool in measuring and managing the health of the planet. We now have such advanced technology we can predict what environmental issues are likely to occur and determine how to deal with them.
It is not just about space. NCEO will combine satellite observations with other sources of data, such as ground-based sensors and models of the Earth system, to improve understanding and predictions of environmental change.
The first Earth Explorer mission, GOCE, or Gravity and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer, has been dubbed the 'Formula One if satellites' on account of its sleek lines, designed to skip over the top of the atmosphere.
It is designed to map out the Earth's gravity field in more detail than before and create a complete picture of the world's ocean circulations
The Soil Moisture and Ocean salinity mission, or SMOS, and CryoSat-2 , which will monitor variations in the thickness of the continental ice-sheets and marine ice cover, are scheduled for launch late in the year.
The Natural Environment Research Council invests around £45 million in ESA's Earth observation programme each year.
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