Getting to know our helpful co-workers in space!

Satellites – our favourite subject. We talk about them A LOT! But with so many different kinds, it might be confusing as to which one does what, so we thought we’d better introduce you to the fleet.

There was a recent post up on our Learning Zone to provide you with a bit of background information on what it is we do at EUMETSAT. To reiterate, we:

Operate a system of meteorological satellites and supply weather and climate-related satellite data, images and products 24-hours a day/365-days a year to the National Meteorological Service.

We’ve now been running a fleet of meteorological satellites and providing weather & climate data for more than 30 years! 

If you’ve had a look at our website, you’ll see a number of different satellites featured there. Some are no longer in use, and some new ones will be coming along in the future. There are currently 9 satellites in operation:

  • Meteosat-8, 9 and 10 (11 parked in orbit for later use)
  • Metop-A and Metop-B
  • Jason-2 & 3
  • Sentinel-3A and Sentinel-3B

Now, let us explain briefly what each one does…

Meteosat Second Generation (MSG)

2004–2025 , 4 geostationary satellites

The Meteosat Second Generation satellites provide full-disc earth images and data for weather forecasts. Today, weather satellites can scan the whole earth from 36,000 kilometres above the equator, which means that not a single tropical storm or severe weather event is missed.

The early detection of extreme weather means that warnings can be provided to the public and save thousands of lives. The Meteosat data is extremely important for *nowcasting high-impact weather, in support of safety of life and property.

The data has been shown to improve weather forecasts and severe weather warnings, which helps limit damage to property and benefits things like transport, agriculture and energy. You can read more about MSG and how it provides a vital service, here.

Meteosat Third Generation (MTG)

2021–2039, 6 geostationary satellites

The Meteosat Third Generation will see the launch of SIX new geostationary satellites from 2021 onwards.

This means that space-acquired meteorological data should be accessible until at least the early 2040s!

Find out why MTG will be bigger and better by going here.


2007–2024, 3 polar satellites

Metop is a series of three *polar-orbiting, *meteorological satellites, that form the space segment part of the overall EUMETSAT Polar System (EPS).

EPS is the European contribution to the Initial Joint Polar System Agreement (IJPS), an agreement between EUMETSAT and NOAA. Metop flies in a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in the ‘morning’, while the US is responsible for ‘afternoon’ coverage.

Metop-A was launched in October 2006, and Metop-B launched in September 2012. The satellites operate at an altitude of 817 kilometres, so that they can provide more detailed observations of the global atmosphere, oceans and continents.

The two satellites currently operate in parallel and a third is set to join them later this year! That’s right, Metop-C will soon complete the trio. To find out more about the Metop services, go here. And make sure you keep up-to-date with the Metop-C launch by following EUMETSAT on our social media channels!

EUMETSAT Polar System-Second Generation (EPS-SG)

2021–2040, 2 polar satellites

The EUMETSAT Polar System Second Generation will continue providing observations and responding to the needs of users between 2021 – 2040.

Polar-orbiting satellites, due to their global coverage and variety of sensors that can be deployed from Low Earth Orbits, have the most significant, positive impact on *Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP).

Find out more about these satellites and their services here.


2009–2036, 3 marine satellites

The Jason missions use *radar altimetry sensors that measure the time a signal takes to bounce off the ocean surface and return to the satellite, to provide global measurements of sea surface height that are accurate to within a few centimetres.

Only space-based radar altimetry can observe the *topography of the ocean surface. Altimetry also measures surface wind speed and the height of ocean waves. The Jason data can help support forecasting for many different things, including ship routing and military operations. To find out what other benefits the Jason series has, go here.

The Jason-3 altimeter data is also part of the Copernicus programme. Copernicus is the European Union’s Earth Observation Programme, looking at our planet and its environment for the ultimate benefit of all European citizens. Find out more by visiting the Copernicus website.


2016–2024, 2 marine satellites

The Sentinel-3 satellites are dedicated Copernicus satellites, delivering a variety of high-quality ocean measurements. They fall under the umbrella of the Copernicus Programme, taking a continuous “health check” of the planet.

You might have read recently on the Learning Zone that Sentinel-3B was launched into space to join its twin, Sentinel-3A in orbit. Both satellites are identical and will work in parallel to increase coverage and data delivery over oceans, measuring the temperature, colour and height of sea surface, as well as thickness of sea ice.

As part of Copernicus, EUMETSAT will be responsible for the operation of Sentinel-3 (marine), 4 and 5. Sentinel-4 and Sentinel-5 are atmospheric sensors which will be placed on Meteosat Third Generation and EPS-SG. ESA are responsible for the operation of Sentinels 1, 2 and 3 (land).

Find out more about the services of Sentinel-3 here.

And these are no longer in operation, but still worth a mention:

Meteosat First Generation (MFG)

1977–2017, 7 geostationary satellites

The Meteosat First Generation *geostationary satellites provided full-disc images of the earth and data for weather forecasts for almost 30 years. The first, Meteosat-1, was launched in 1977 and the last, Meteosat-7, was launched in 1997.

In 1968, the European Space Agency (ESA) (formerly the European Space Research Organisation) received some funding for studies of application satellites, including weather satellites. Meteosat proved capable of observing the *atmospheric circulation and weather around the equator, in *near real-time. In September 1972, ESA officially adopted the Meteosat programme and launched the first prototype Meteosat in November 1977, followed by Meteosat-2 in 1981.

For more information on MFG, including the Meteosat design, go here.

Did you get all that?! We hope that now you have a better understanding of the different satellites and their functions. We’ve also explained some terms below that you might not be so familiar with.

*Geostationary: A geostationary satellite is positioned directly above the earth’s equator. It’s orbit time is 24 hours, meaning that it goes around the earth at the same pace as the earth is spinning, so it seems as though it’s staying in the same spot all the time.

*Atmospheric circulation: The large-scale movement of air, together with ocean circulation is the means by which thermal energy is redistributed on the surface of the earth.

*Near real-time: There is a time delay between the satellite capturing the data, and the time it takes to process and use the data. So the near real-time information displays the data as it was at the current time captured, minus the processing time, so it is nearly at the time of the live capture.

*Nowcasting: A detailed description of the current weather for a period of a few hours ahead. In this time range it is possible to forecast small features such as individual storms with reasonable accuracy. A forecaster using the latest radar, satellite and observational data is able to make analysis of the small-scale features present in a small area such as a city and make an accurate forecast for the following few hours.

*Polar-orbiting satellites: These pass over the earth’s polar regions from north to south at low altitudes, looking down at the earth’s entire surface. They can pass over the North and South Poles several times a day.

*Meteorology: Studies of the earth’s atmosphere, with a major focus on weather forecasting.

*Numerical weather prediction (NWP): Using mathematical models of the atmosphere and oceans to predict the weather, based on current weather conditions.

*Radar-altimetry sensors: Measuring the altitude between the satellite and the earth’s surface by timing how long it takes a beam of radio waves to reflect from the ground and return to the satellite. 

*Topography: The ocean surface has highs and lows, similar to the hills and valleys of the earth’s land surface. These variations are called ocean surface topography.

Is there anything you’d like us to talk about in the future? Let us know! And make sure you follow us on our social media accounts to keep updated with what’s going on inside EUMETSAT.

**Some information sourced from Wikipedia.

About the Author

Natalie Lunt