Last close goodbye to Leonardo’s “lightning hunter” aboard the MTG-I1 satellite

08 September 2022

Leonardo’s Lightning Imager (LI), aboard the first Meteosat Third Generation satellite (MTG), will soon be leaving Europe to reach its launch base in Kourou, French Guiana. A veritable “lightning hunter”, the LI can detect and analyse images of lightning bolts in the Earth's atmosphere both by day and by night. 

All is almost ready for Leonardo's first Lightning Imager installed on the Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) satellite of ESA and EUMETSAT  and built by Thales Alenia Space (a joint venture between Thales 67% and Leonardo 33%). The MTG-I1 satellite with the instrument will soon be shipped to the European launch base.

LI programme manager Carlo Simoncelli salutes the MTG satellite bearing the lightning hunter before being shipped to french guiana for its launch

To celebrate this new milestone and salute the satellite before being loaded onto an Ariane 5 launcher, Thales Alenia Space opened the doors of its facilities in Cannes to the press, to offer a last chance to get a closer look at the satellite that is to provide new information crucial to the study of lightning.

Leonardo’s Lightning Imager, built by some 30 highly qualified engineers and technicians in Campi Bisenzio (Florence), will be the first instrument of its kind ever made in Europe and the only one in the world to offer such a high level of performance. For example, it is the only instrument that can capture even just a single lightning bolt in the sky.

Such information could contribute to the study of extreme weather events, to monitoring climate change, and to air traffic safety.

Following the satellite’s shipment, Leonardo will continue to conduct satellite testing activities until the launch phase, scheduled to take place before the end of 2022. Furthermore, following the launch, which will be managed by Telespazio’s Fucino Space Centre, Leonardo will support ESA, EUMETSAT and Thales Alenia Space during the instrument’s first power-up and commissioning in flight. Moreover, a contract is currently being assessed to support in-flight operations throughout the operational life of the first MTG satellite, and possibility subsequent ones too.

Meanwhile, in Leonardo’s plant in the outskirts of Florence, work has begun on the next three “lightning hunters” included in the programme. These will have the same characteristics as the first and will be delivered in 2023 and 2024 for installation on the next three MTG imaging satellites.

The MTG lightning imager has not gone unnoticed across the ocean. As part of GEO-X, the future meteorological mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Leonardo – acting as instrument manager – is collaborating with Northrop Grumman on one of the two preliminary studies (phase A) in the running for the Lightning Mapper, the US agency’s next satellite-borne “lightning hunter”.