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Aeolus Satellite Uses Powerful Ultraviolet Lidar to Measure Wind Speeds From Space

ESA’s biggest challenge was keeping the spacecraft’s advanced optics from fogging up

3 min read
Photo: ATG Medialab/ESA
Cyclone Watch: The data collected by Aeolus will improve the accuracy of weather forecasts.
Photo: ATG Medialab/ESA

It’s closing time for one of Earth observation’s most stubborn and critical data gaps: global wind speeds. A European Space Agency (ESA) satellite set for launch from French Guiana tomorrow—after nearly two decades of challenging engineering and a weather delaywill be the first to directly measure wind speed and direction, from Earth’s surface to the stratosphere.

Winds are key determinants of weather and climate, yet most wind data still comes from weather balloons. Readings from commercial jets supplement the balloons’ twice-daily samplings, along with estimates inferred from satellites that track moving clouds, atmospheric temperatures, and sea-surface roughness. The result is a patchy wind record that adds uncertainty to weather forecasts.

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Top Tech 2022: A Special Report

Preview two dozen exciting technical developments that are in the pipeline for the coming year

1 min read
Photo of the lower part of a rocket in an engineering bay.

NASA’s Space Launch System will carry Orion to the moon.

Frank Michaux/NASA

At the start of each year, IEEE Spectrum attempts to predict the future. It can be tricky, but we do our best, filling the January issue with a couple of dozen reports, short and long, about developments the editors expect to make news in the coming year.

This isn’t hard to do when the project has been in the works for a long time and is progressing on schedule—the coming first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, for example. For other stories, we must go farther out on a limb. A case in point: the description of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin that the company formerly known as Square (which recently changed its name to Block) is developing but won’t officially comment on. One thing we can predict with confidence, though, is that Spectrum readers, familiar with the vicissitudes of technical development work, will understand if some of these projects don’t, in fact, pan out. That’s still okay.

Engineering, like life, is as much about the journey as the destination.

See all stories from our Top Tech 2022 Special Report

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