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Biral thunderstorm detector incorporated into meteorological station at SaxaVord Spaceport

Posted 24th February 2023

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Leading meteorological expert Biral has today announced that it has been selected by SaxaVord Spaceport to install its BTD-300 thunderstorm detector as part of a ground-breaking all-in-one weather station project. Taking place in Shetland, the spaceport team is currently preparing for the UK’s first vertical rocket launch.

Working in partnership with Nevis Technology from Aberdeen, the complete met system which they developed will be installed at the Lamba Ness site in Unst, with the first rocket launch planned for this year.

The advanced meteorological system comprises a range of sensors that will enable the on-site team to assess all aspects of the weather and surrounding atmosphere in the lead-up to a rocket launch, improving the safety of each event. A comprehensive picture of air pressure, temperature, wind speed, cloud coverage and visibility, plus lightning and storm detection will also help map the rocket’s trajectory when it takes off.

The BTD-300 thunderstorm detector from Biral is a standalone sensor that reliably detects the presence of all forms of lightning to a range of 83km, the Spaceport team will benefit from its unique quasi-electrostatic operating principle that gives the detector a very low false alarm rate and the ability to offer advance warnings of the risk of overhead lightning.

Its ability to reliably detect cloud-to-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning, as well as charged precipitation and corona ions, makes the BTD-300 much more sensitive to the presence of storms compared to devices that only rely upon radio detection principles. Its ability to detect the corona ions created when a thundercloud is developing, allows warnings of potential fire risks when fuelling the rocket engines. This proven, novel operating principle also allows the sensor to warn of the risk of overhead lightning before the first discharge occurs.

With £19m already invested in SaxaVord Spaceport, a sum that is expected to rise to £43m over the next 18 months and £100m in the next five years, it’s exciting to see the project enter its final stages.

Nathan Neal, Sales and Marketing Director at Biral, said, “SaxaVord Spaceport required a ‘full-service offering’ that integrated all weather monitoring systems into one, and we are very proud to be involved in this moment in history. Working with our colleagues at Nevis Technology, we believe the BTD-300 is the perfect piece of equipment to enhance the weather station’s capabilities, so we are very much looking forward to seeing it in action later this year.”

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