UK Government funds the Hyperspectral Microwave Sounder, a new sensor for tracking extreme weather
07 Dec 2020



A new kind of climate monitoring instrument from RAL Space is one of 21 highly innovative new projects funded by the UK Space Agency’s National Space Innovation Programme (NSIP).

Five small satellites scanning the Earth gathering data at multiple altitudes and areas in the atmosphere.

​​​​​Artist impression of a future HYMS constellation.

Credit: STFC RAL Space​

The Hyperspectral Microwave Sounder (HYMS) is set to transform the future of weather forecasting. It has achieved four times greater sensitivity than sounder technology on board the current generation of meteorological satellites, and a hardware footprint 50 fold smaller.

Scientists at the Science and Technology Facilities Council's (STFC) RAL Space will develop a pre-prototype, first of its kind sensor which will be small enough to fly on board a nano-satellite.

Dr Manju Henry, Senior Systems Engineer and HYMS lead, RAL Space said:

“Improving our understanding of the atmosphere's temperature and moisture is one of the fundamental requirements to forecasting and mitigating the impacts of extreme weather events and climate change.

“We're excited to have the opportunity through NSIP to accelerate the development of the HYMS sensor. The sensor could radically improve weather forecasting capability and our understanding of our planet's climate. This project will provide the foundations to launch a constellation of satellites to provide of weather and climate data globally."

Today satellites provide over 90% of the data that goes into weather forecasting models. Microwave sensors play a crucial role in our understanding of weather and climate change.

​The HYMS sensor goes leaps and bounds beyond what is currently possible, offering over 1000 sampling channels versus just 24 channels on the current generation of weather satellites. The greater the number of channels means there can be more observations of the atmosphere at different altitudes.  

HYMS is also smaller than existing technology, meaning it can be flown in a constellation of multiple small satellites, giving a much more frequent view of the temperature and moisture of the atmosphere. This is difficult to do with large satellites due to the high costs of build and launch.

Frequent observations will help to monitor rapidly developing extreme weather events like hurricanes and flooding, dramatically enhancing global weather forecasting, improving early warning and mitigation systems as well as climate monitoring.

The £600,000 funding will enable RAL Space to carry out rigorous analysis and develop the HYMS instrument, helping take this novel sensor another step closer to launch.

NSIP is the first UK fund dedicated to supporting the space sector's development of innovations, supporting radical ideas to compete internationally.

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said:     

“We want the UK to be a world leader in space technology which is why we are supporting our most ambitious innovators who are developing first of a kind technologies to help solve some of our greatest challenges.

“From slashing carbon emissions to protecting the UK's critical services from harmful cyber-attacks, today's funding will unshackle our most entrepreneurial space scientists so that they can transfer their revolutionary ideas into world class products and services, while helping to boost the UK economy."

Businesses, universities and research organisations will share over £7 million of funding for projects that will help the space sector create new high-skill jobs, while developing new skills and technologies on UK soil.