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Finnish Space Technology Assists Climate Satellite Project

The second Earth Explorer satellite(SMOS) launched by the European Space Agency(ESA) will blast off from Russia on November, 2. Finnish researchers have developed radio technology essential to the craft’s mission which is to map soil moisture and ocean salinity.

SMOS (Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity) on ESAn ja Ranskan avaruusjärjestön (CNES) yhteinen kaukokartoitussatelliitti, joka mittaa maaperän kosteutta ja valtamerien suolaisuutta.
Image: ESA - AOES Medialab

Procurement of such data is essential for the construction of climate models and for the understanding of ocean currents. A group of researchers at the Helsinki University of Technology developed measuring technology first experimented on test flights made in Finland, Central Europe and Spain.

Antennae constructed on the SMOS satellite are based on the same technology as a microwave imaging radiometer developed by the university. In practice, these smaller antenna units obviate the need for large parabolic units at frequencies used for measuring soil moisture and ocean salinity. Such large satellite dishes would be impossible for a space craft to carry.

“Our research team demonstrated for the first time in the world that this form of measurement really works for this kind of mapping,” says Professor Marti Hallikainen at the Helsinki University of Technology.

SMOS will orbit the globe fourteen times daily for a period of at least three years measuring soil moisture and ocean salinity.

The amount of water in the soil and salinity in the oceans are key variables linked to Earth’s water cycle, affecting weather and climate. Variations of moisture in soil and salinity in the surface waters of the ocean are a consequence of the continuous exchange of water between the oceans, the atmosphere and the land. Data received will help in determining climate models and lead to a better prediction of floods and other natural disasters.

Finnish technology is already in space. For example, the European Hershcel satellite contains a mirror enabling the craft to see further out into space than any other similar piece of equipment.

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