Our climate and weather are strongly influenced by the flow of infrared radiation into and out of the Earth’s atmosphere. GERB will be the first instrument to track this flow from a geostationary orbit – that is, from the same position relative to the Earth – and this will enable it to provide a continuous picture of radiation flow in the Western hemisphere.

The data gathered by the highly sensitive radiation detectors on GERB will be sent back to Earth every fifteen minutes, allowing meteorologists to track short-lived weather systems and to obtain a clearer picture of how long-term effects emerge.

In its final position, the satellite will be nearly 36 000 km above the Earth’s surface at zero degrees longitude – that is, the Greenwich meridian – just off the West coast of equatorial Africa. GERB will be switched on in November, and is expected to send its first images back to Earth a few days later.

The Meteosat Second Generation satellite is a joint project of the European Space Agency and Eumetsat, an organisation based in Germany. GERB cost around £9 million, and was funded mainly by the UK, Italy and Belgium.

‘Climate change is an issue of vital concern for today’s society,’ says Jacqui Russell, science co-ordinator for the GERB project. ‘Human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, are altering the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere and affecting the radiation balance that drives our climate. We will learn much more about how our complex climate system behaves, and increase our ability to predict climate change by using GERB.’