Forty years of Meteosat
22 November 2017
ESA's first Earth observation satellite was launched on 23 November 1977. When the first Meteosat satellite took its place in the sky, it completed coverage of the whole globe from geostationary orbit and laid the foundations for European and world cooperation in meteorology that continues today.
Weather - and particularly extreme weather - affects everything we do. Being able to see the whole disc of Earth allows forecasters to see developing weather systems, as well as working out wind speed and direction based on cloud movements. Atlantic hurricanes appear on Meteosat images long before they interact with land, and data from space help to predict their tracks.
Before weather satellites, forecasters relied on surface observations from land, ships and buoys, along with some information about the atmosphere provided by balloon-borne radiosondes, kites and aircraft. Satellites provided a vast new array of information that, coupled with new computer models, helped to make forecasts more reliable for longer periods.
Meteosat was an important milestone in European cooperation in space. Individual countries had pioneered monitoring of the ionosphere from space and the European Space Conferences of the 1960s agreed in principle that there should be a European weather satellite, but it was not until Meteosat that the potential for meteorological satellites began to be fulfilled.