Contract secures design of ESA’s FORUM satellite


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ESA has awarded a contract worth €160 million to Airbus in the UK to build the Earth Explorer FORUM satellite. This exciting new mission will provide unique insight into the planet’s radiation budget and how it is controlled, filling in a critical missing piece of the climate puzzle.

Short for Far-infrared Outgoing Radiation Understanding and Monitoring, FORUM is ESA’s ninth Earth Explorer mission.

Produced as part of ESA’s FutureEO programme, Earth Explorers are pioneering research satellites. Each of these extraordinary missions carries innovative space technology and each, without exception, has exceeded its original scientific objectives.

Time and again, they show how new space-based instruments and measurement techniques can produce an astonishing wealth of scientific discoveries about our planet – which, in turn, benefit society as a whole.

FORUM promises to be all of this and more – above all, to provide new understanding of atmospheric processes related to climate change.

The Earth’s surface temperature depends on the radiative balance at the top of the atmosphere, but this balance has been disrupted by the emission of greenhouse gases, trapping heat in the atmosphere that would otherwise s would escape into space.

More than half of Earth’s outgoing long-wave energy is in the far infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, but this particular part of the spectrum has never been measured before.

Filling this gap, FORUM will measure in the far infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

These measurements are important because radiation exiting the Earth at these wavelengths is strongly affected by water vapor and ice clouds, which in turn play a key role in regulating Earth’s temperatures. surface.

The measures of this ambitious new mission will improve confidence in the accuracy of climate change assessments that form the basis of future policy decisions.

After the initial development phases and its final selection as the ninth Earth Explorer, ESA awarded the contract to build the FORUM mission to Airbus in the UK.

At a ceremony marking the signing of the contract, held yesterday at the Houses of Parliament in London, Simonetta Cheli, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, said: “We are delighted 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 very successful family of Earth Explorer missions and, by gaining new insights, will bring great benefits to climate science.

Jean-Marc Nasr, Head of Space Systems at Airbus, added: “This critical Earth observation mission to measure the Earth’s infrared radiation for the first time will provide scientists and climatologists with the data they need. to improve their predictions of global warming.

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

George Freeman, Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, said: “This important new mission to further improve the accuracy of climate predictions and see our planet in a new light is another illustration of the British space technology expertise. Scientists from Imperial College London have provided essential support to ESA in defining FORUM’s scientific objectives and the satellite is expected to be built by Airbus at Stevenage.

“This is an important industrial contract that demonstrates the UK’s strengths in Earth observation technology and satellite manufacturing, as well as our global leadership in the fight against climate change.


Dominique Gillieron, ESA’s Earth Explorer Program Manager, said: “FORUM, which we plan to launch from the European Spaceport in French Guiana in 2027, is a single-satellite mission that will carry a Fourier transform spectrometer capable to measure the entire far-infrared portion of the Earth’s electromagnetic spectrum.

“It will be the first time ever that this part of the spectrum has been measured from space with this accuracy and it will greatly contribute to climate research.

“With FORUM’s important role to play, this contract is an important milestone and we look forward to the construction ahead.”

Melvin B. Baillie