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Aeolus, the first satellite to measure wind speeds across the entire planet, was launched by the European Space Agency last year. Named after the keeper of the winds in Greek mythology, it delivers up to date maps of global wind speed. These maps increase the understanding of atmospheric circulation, but importantly improve weather forecasting, enabling better prediction of storms and other extreme weather events.
According to the World Bank, hydrological and meteorological hazards are responsible for 90% of total disaster losses worldwide. It says improved weather forecasting and early warning could increase productivity by $30 billion a year, and save $35 billion a year in reduced and avoided losses. The data gathered by the $550 million satellite could also offer scientists a deeper understanding of climate change.
Aeolus houses a sophisticated laser system called Aladdin, designed to provide vertical profiles of wind speeds from the Earth's surface up to the stratosphere at an altitude of 30 kilometres. Unlike other wind measurement tools, that are limited to localised estimates, Aeolus uses its vantage point, 320 kilometres above the planet's surface, to provide the first global patterns of wind behaviour at different heights.
Even though Aeolus' observations have so far been invaluable, the European Space Agency says that since its launch, the laser is degrading and has already lost one third of its power. Engineers now plan to switch Aeolus to its backup light source, to see what difference this could make. This is all in an effort to fulfil the three year lifetime requirements of the mission.
Last year alone hydrological, and meteorological disasters cost the world around 6,000 lives, and more than $120 billion. If Aeolus' mission does help to curb these losses, its journey will have been well worth it.