All Weather News

CYGNSS Microsatellites Set to Revolutionize Hurricane Forecasting

12 Dec 2016, 7:24 am

After two failed attempts, technical difficulties have delayed the launch of  NASA’s next generation of hurricane tracking technology. The launch has been rescheduled for Tuesday December 13, 2016, pending resolution of any issues. Watch live here.

The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, or CYGNSS, will be the first to probe the inner core of hurricanes in greater detail to better understand their rapid intensification. The goal is to improve hurricane intensity forecasts. Hurricane track forecasts have improved in accuracy by about 50 percent since 1990, but in that same period there has been essentially no improvement in the accuracy of intensity forecasts.

NASA has funded a new mission using a constellation of eight small satellites carried to low-Earth orbit on a single launch vehicle to make accurate measurements of ocean surface winds in and near the eye of the storm throughout the lifecycle of tropical cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes.

Once in orbit, CYGNSS’s micro-satellite observatories will receive direct and reflected signals from Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. GPS captures wind speed. The direct signals pinpoint CYGNSS observatory positions, while the reflected signals respond to ocean surface roughness, from which wind speed is retrieved.

“This mission will help us get a better idea of the intensity of tropical cyclones,” said Frank Peri, director of the Earth Systems Science Program Office (ESSPO), based at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

These small satellites range in size from a loaf of bread to a small washing machine and weigh from a few to 400 pounds. Their small size keeps development and launch costs down as they often hitch a ride to space as a “secondary payload” on another mission’s rocket – providing an economical avenue for testing new technologies and conducting science.

“NASA is increasingly using small satellites to tackle important science problems across our mission portfolio,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “They also give us the opportunity to test new technological innovations in space and broaden the involvement of students and researchers to get hands-on experience with space systems.”

Small-satellite technology has led to innovations in how scientists approach Earth observations from space. These new missions, five of which are scheduled to launch during the next several months, will debut new methods to measure hurricanes, Earth’s energy budget, aerosols, and weather.

CYGNSS launched Monday morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a Pegasus XL rocket from an Orbital Sciences Corporation Stargazer L-1011 aircraft. CYGNSS is funded through NASA’s ESSPO and developed by the University of Michigan.

Michael Finneran
NASA’s Langley Research Center
Editor: Samuel McDonald

Cover photo credit: NASA/Mark Mackley

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