Sunny outlook for UK science as new radar promises improved weather forecasting
17 Jul 2018



An innovative cloud profiling radar and next generation infrared calibration sources are two exciting new projects led by RAL Space for which UK Space Agency funding was announced today.

Cloud profiling radar one of the projects funded by the UK Space Agency. Image shows cloud over Chilbolton Observatory.

​​​Cloud profiling radar is one of the projects funded by the UK Space Agency. Image shows cloud over Chilbolton Observatory.​

Credit: STFC RAL Space

The RAL Space projects are two of seven cutting edge science projects funded following a hotly contested competition run by the Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation (CEOI) and extensive peer review.

The cloud radar, being developed by a UK consortium led by RAL Space to improve the accuracy of weather prediction, won a share of a £4.7 million UK Space Agency funding pot to develop highly innovative sensors that could be used to monitor climate change, improve mapping and co-ordinate disaster relief efforts from space.

Called GRaCE, the G-band Radar for Cloud Evaluation, instrument will be able to provide enhanced scientific data that can improve numerical weather forecasting.

Dr Peter Huggard, who leads novel terahertz technology development within RAL Space, said “We are very pleased to have secured this UKSA funding for GRaCE. We have assembled a very strong national team - Thomas Keating Ltd and the Universities of Leicester and St Andrews - to design and build GRaCE. We anticipate that this ground based radar, working at double the frequency of existing space radars, will demonstrate the scientific benefits of the concept. Our ambition is then to take the project to the next stage, building equipment to fly in space which is of benefit to society through improved weather forecasting"

GRaCE will operate at 200 GHz, a much higher frequency than current spaceborne cloud radars. GRaCE is designed to provide better information on the distribution and size of small water droplets and ice crystals in the atmosphere. It will do this by working on its own, and in consort with at other high frequency radars.

Over the next 18 months, team members, Sussex based SME Thomas Keating Ltd., and the Universities of Leicester and St Andrews, under the leadership of STFC RAL Space, will design, build and deploy the GRaCE ground-based demonstrator radar. Field testing will take place alongside other atmospheric radars at the STFC Chilbolton Observatory. To build the instrument, the Millimetre Wave Technology Group​ at RAL Space will adapt in-house space Schottky diode technology, previously produced for programmes including EUMETSAT/ESA's MetOp-SG , to provide the necessary high transmitted powers and sensitive receivers for the project.

The data from the instrument will be valuable to meteorological modellers all over the world, providing opportunities to export this innovative new technology for use on the ground, in the air and from space.​

The other RAL Space project, for Next Generation Infrared Calibration Sources (NGENIRS) will develop an innovative black-body calibration system, essential for delivering highly accurate data from infrared sensing space missions which measure land and sea surface temperatures. This project builds on RAL Space's heritage calibrating sea surface temperature instruments for more than two decades for missions from ERS-1 through to the current Sentinel satellites.

In November 2017 businesses and organisations were invited to bid for UK Space Agency funding to match their own investments in developing new Earth observation technologies that could create export opportunities for the UK.


Image: Schottky diode developed by RAL Space for MetOp-SG, the small semiconductor devices and their packaging which are used to generate and detect the high frequencies for GRaCE. Credit: STFC RAL Space.

​Technical information about the winning bids:

1.       GRaCE: G-band Radar for Cloud Evaluation

A consortium led by STFC RAL Space and including Thomas Keating Ltd, the University of Leicester, and the University of St Andrews has been awarded £609,000 to build and demonstrate a 200GHz, 1.5mm wavelength cloud profiling radar, able to provide enhanced scientific data that can improve the accuracy of societally important numerical weather prediction models. The STFC RAL Space led Schottky diode technology will be integrated with a dual purpose, transmit and receive, antenna system designed and built by Thomas Keating Ltd.. Dr Duncan Robertson, a millimetre wave radar expert at the University of St Andrews will help with radar design and testing, and the project scientist, Dr Alessandro Battaglia at the University of Leicester, will work on the data analysis to demonstrate the benefit of the approach.

2.       Next Generation Infrared calibration Sources (NGENIRS)

A consortium led by STFC RAL Space and including Surrey Nano Systems Ltd and the National Physical Laboratory has been awarded £594,000 to combine a range of technologies funded through previous CEOI and NSTP programmes in order to build and characterise a fully functional prototype flight black body demonstrator, which is a key enabling technology for delivering high-performance and accurate data from infrared sensing missions.​