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Satellite launch to study hurricanes on hold

Improving hurricane intensity forecasts with little satellites

The L-1011 aircraft with the Pegasus XL rocket mounted beneath headed back to the Skid Strip runway at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station after a technical glitch scrubbed the launch.
The L-1011 aircraft with the Pegasus XL rocket mounted beneath headed back to the Skid Strip runway at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station after a technical glitch scrubbed the launch.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hurricane intensity forecasts are about to get more accurate with pioneering space technology about the size of a shoebox.

For the first time ever, clusters of small satellites will peer into the middle of hurricanes to predict strength at landfall. 

The Pegasus XL rocket hosting the satellite payload was not able to launch today from an Orbital ATK L-1011 airplane when the latches holding Pegasus in place failed to release. Teams are assessing the issue and may reschedule a launch flight Tuesday.

NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) gets into space from a rocket that doesn't launch vertically from the ground...it launches horizontally from underneath an L-1011 Stargazer aircraft!

The CYGNSS mission’s eight satellites will use GPS signals to study how tropical cyclones grow stronger over warm ocean waters The two-year mission will play a critical role tracking the beginning and intensification of hurricanes.

This groundbreaking technology will measure wind intensity over the ocean in rapidly evolving hurricanes. Eight identical satellites will fly in formation using reflections from GPS signals off the ocean surface to monitor surface winds and boundary interactions where the air meets the ocean. 

They will gather more data up to 12 minutes apart compared to legacy measurements which can be days apart.

“Today, we can’t see what’s happening under the rain,” said Chris Ruf, professor in the University of Michigan’s Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering and principal investigator for the CYGNSS mission. “We can measure the wind outside of the storm cell with present systems. But there’s a gap in our knowledge of cyclone processes in the critical eyewall region of the storm – a gap that will be filled by the CYGNSS data. The models try to predict what is happening under the rain, but they are much less accurate without continuous experimental validation.”

These satellites are smaller and cost less. The smallest satellites are making big steps forward in hurricane strength forecasting. Some satellites are as small as a shoebox and range in scale to a dishwasher.

The way data is collected makes these satellite less expensive. The CYGNSS satellites themselves will not broadcast. The CYGNSS satellites only receive signals from existing GPS satellites already orbiting the Earth. 

Traditional satellites measure wind speed over the oceans with radar signals sent to the ground and listening for the return signal strength reflected back to it in a technique called scatterometry.


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