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Satellite centrepiece for Space Park Leicester

Two satellites which shine a light on Leicester’s role in climate research form the centrepiece of Space Park Leicester’s new atrium space.

Huge scale models of the European Space Agency (ESA)’s Envisat and a second-generation Meteosat have been installed above the main entrance to the research, enterprise and education cluster, and will serve to welcome visitors to the facility.

Professor John Remedios of the Earth Observation Science Group at the University of Leicester, and Director of the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO) hosted at Space Park Leicester, said: “These two satellites not only serve as a fantastic welcome to Space Park Leicester, but also highlight the world-changing research conducted by researchers at the University of Leicester and NCEO.

“We are hugely proud of Leicester’s long-standing heritage at the cutting edge of space-based research, which is also pertinent in the University’s Centenary year.

“The NCEO continues to play a vital role in tracking human impact on Earth’s changing climate, and offers solutions to building a more sustainable future.”

Envisat served in Earth orbit for a decade after launching in 2002, and from its observations Leicester researchers and their collaborators have provided key climate data for the global scientific community. An example of the Meteosat Second Generation satellite is expected to serve in Earth orbit until the 2030s.

Envisat, left, covered in gold protective foil, with the smaller Meteosat (second generation), top right.

David Llewellyn-Jones, Leicester’s first Professor of Earth Observation Science, and Professor Remedios served as the principal investigators (PIs) for the UK-built Advanced Along-Track Scanning Radiometer (AATSR) instrument, used to determine accurate sea surface temperatures from infrared observations. Partly due to the data derived from AATSR, the NCEO is considered a European leader in climate data records for land surface temperature.

Envisat also carried the Michelson Interferometer for Passive Atmospheric Sounding (MIPAS) and SCanning Imaging Absorption spectroMeter for Atmospheric CHartographY (SCIAMACHY) instruments, used by Professor Remedios alongside Leicester colleagues Professor Paul Monks and Dr David Moore to measure concentrations of gases in Earth’s atmosphere, including greenhouse gases and substances which deplete Earth’s protective ozone layer.

Also visible on the exterior of Envisat is the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR). The University of Leicester has pioneered the use of radar applications to study environmental problems such as deforestation monitoring and forest carbon mapping.

Leicester researchers including Professors Heiko Balzter – also Director of the Centre for Landscape and Climate Research – Kevin Tansey, and Dr Pedro Rodríguez-Veiga are working in the context of the European Space Agency’s Climate Change Initiative on forest biomass and wildfire monitoring methods.

Meteosat Second Generation, which consists of a four-satellite system with lifetimes into the 2030s, carries the Geostationary Earth Radiation Budget (GERB) instrument as well as the Spinning Enhanced Visible and InfraRed Imager (SEVIRI), which supports weather forecasting.

The UK-led GERB instrument measures outgoing short-wave and long-wave total radiation for radiation budget. GERB is led by researchers at Imperial College London, the PI, Helen Brindley, is also a Divisional Director for the NCEO and works closely with Remedios and the Leicester teams.

University of Leicester engineers built four focal-plane arrays for flight on board the constellation’s GERB instruments, which means Leicester is one of only a small number of universities worldwide to have built multiple copies of the same instrument for spaceflight.

Leicester scientist Dr Darren Ghent has supported analysis of land surface temperature data from SEVIRI. Together with Leicester colleagues, he has exploited the SEVIRI data to improve surface model simulations through advanced data assimilation methods.

Space Park Leicester has been developed by the University of Leicester with a number of regional, national and international partners, and seeks to bring together cutting-edge space research with business to increase skills capability in space.

Phase 1 of Space Park Leicester opened earlier this year, with Phase 2 laboratories, workshops, offices and other specialist spaces expected to come online in January 2022.

There are also plans for a further development on the Leicester site, with a commercial Low Cost Access to Space (LoCAS) satellite manufacturing facility for the manufacture of mid-range satellites.

LoCAS will address the UK’s need for capacity to build satellite constellations and will provide a pipeline for burgeoning UK launch services, lower the barriers to new entrants in the market and support the development of new business models for downstream services.

To find out more information about the National Centre for Earth Observation, visit nceo.ac.uk.

To find out more about Space Park Leicester, visit space-park.co.uk.

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