The Leonardo Lightning Imager “hunts” for lightning on board the Meteosat Third Generation satellite

Lightning Imager, Leonardo’s lightning detector, has been shipped from Campi Bisenzio to the Thales Alenia Space plant in France where it will be integrated on the first Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) satellite.

This consignment represents yet another step towards the completion of the MTG satellite, which will undergo further testing prior to its launch from Kourou, in French Guiana, currently scheduled in December 2022.

Scientists and meteorologists have been observing and trying to learn more about lightning for decades, because beyond its evocative nature and beauty, it is also a safety hazard for humans, the environment and transport, an issue that cannot be left entirely to chance. The Lightning Imager (LI), Europe’s first space-based “lightning-buster”, is capable of intercepting even just a single bolt of lightning at a distance of 36,000 kilometres from Earth (at present other tools of its kind can only detect lightning clusters), making it the most advanced imager in the world. As a result, adding it to MTG’s arsenal of technological instrumentation will make a huge difference to the study of this important meteorological phenomenon.

The Lightning Imager was designed in Campi Bisenzio (near Florence) by a team of a good 30 engineers and technicians, coordinated by Carlo Simoncelli, the instrument’s programme manager, and led, on the engineering side, by Guia Pastorini. The team has been working on the lightning detector for nine years, ever since Thales Alenia Space commissioned Leonardo for ESA (the European Space Agency), in 2012, with the objective of installing it on the first Meteosat Third Generation (MTG) satellite.

The Meteosat Third Generation programme, developed by ESA in collaboration with EUMETSAT, includes six satellites – four MTG-I (‘Imaging’) and two MTG-S (‘Sounding’) satellites – located in geostationary orbit, approximately 36,000 km away from Earth.
The Lightning Imager will be on board the four ‘imaging’ satellites. After the first LI is completed, the engineers at Campi Bisenzio will proceed with the production of the other three.