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UK team delivers Earth Observation instrument that will improve our understanding of the Earth's climate

15 March 2018

The Broadband Radiometer on assembly table

BBR telescope assembly
(Credit: STFC)

A Broadband Radiometer instrument, designed and built in the UK with the aim of improving our understanding of the Earth’s climate, has been delivered to the EarthCARE mission team in Germany.

The broadband radiometer (BBR) is a scientific instrument for the Earth Cloud Aerosol and Radiation Explorer (EarthCARE) satellite. It is a cutting edge piece of engineering that will use three telescopes looking in three directions at once to study the radiance at the top of the atmosphere for better weather prediction. It will look at the relationship between clouds, aerosols and radiation and their combined effects on the Earth’s climate system.

This is the latest step towards completing the European Space Agency’s most complex Earth observation satellite.

Dr Chris Mutlow, Director of RAL Space said, “The BBR is an innovative and complex piece of engineering which, thanks to our heritage in this area, many RAL Space staff have been involved over the course of its development, build and test. I’m delighted that it’s now ready to be integrated with the EarthCARE spacecraft and look forward to the impact its observations will have on our ability to model and understand the processes involved in climate change.”

Led by Thales Alenia Space in the United Kingdom, it was delivered from the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s RAL Space in Oxfordshire, UK, to satellite prime contractor Airbus’s integration centre in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

The EarthCARE mission, scheduled to launch in 2020, will improve our understanding of the relationship between clouds, aerosols and radiation and their combined effects on the Earth’s climate system. This high-priority mission will enhance our understanding of the science behind climatology and weather prediction.

Artist’s view of EarthCare

Artist’s view of EarthCare
(Credit: ESA–P. Carril, 2013)

The BBR will measure both solar flux and thermal flux, taking measurements across the spectrum from ultraviolet to the far infrared. It comprises three independent fixed telescopes, sophisticated calibration systems and specifically developed detectors to cover the entire spectrum. A significant design and engineering challenge, the BBR will set a new standard in satellite radiometry.

The telescope assembly was designed and built by RAL Space, building on over 20 years of experience working on innovative instruments for weather forecasting and climate science. The sophisticated design used RAL Space’s extensive expertise leading the Geostationary Earth Radiation Budget (GERB) series of instruments, which monitored the reflected sunlight and thermal emissions from Earth between 2002 and 2013.

Thales Alenia Space’s engineers in the UK led the design, construction and testing of the BBR. Other British companies and universities made significant contributions to this instrument, including RAL Space. Alongside the optical, mechanical and electrical design for the telescope assembly, RAL Space also provided the thermal design for the whole instrument. The majority of environmental testing, functional testing and instrument calibration was also performed at RAL Space facilities. ESR provided the mechanism assembly and SciSys the onboard software.

"By designing, building and testing the sophisticated BBR instrument, Thales Alenia Space is proud to serve the largest and most complex Earth Explorer mission to date,” said Ben Olivier, CEO of Thales Alenia Space in the UK. “It represents ten years of collaborative and constructive work between teams from industry and academia, who have had to overcome tremendous technical challenges."


Madeleine Russell
Communications Officer, RAL Space
Tel: +44 (0) 1235 446288
Mob: +44 (0) 7594 083386

Melissa Warren
STFC Media Officer
Mob: +44 (0) 7850 975112

Notes to Editors

ESA’s Earth Cloud Aerosol and Radiation Explorer (EarthCARE) satellite mission.


Available to download from here. Image captions are shown as comments; credit information for all: STFC RAL Space.


RAL Space, based at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, carries out an exciting range of world-class space research and technology development. It has had significant involvement in over 200 space missions and is at the forefront of UK space research.
Follow us on Twitter: @RAL_Space_STFC.

Thales Alenia Space in the UK

Thales Alenia Space in the UK was established in 2014 with offices in Bristol, Harwell and Belfast and is a leader in propulsion systems, Earth Observation and Science mission subsystems, and next generation payloads for telecoms, military satellites and UK satellite constellations. Thales Alenia Space in the UK is also responsible for the Broadband Radiometer – a space borne instrument, as part of the European Space Agency ‘Earthcare’ programme, which will help scientists understand and monitor global warming.

Science and Technology Facilities Council
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