Thursday’s exciting launch of eight microsatellites carried by Pegasus XL rocket under the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System mission, or CYGNSS, was special in many ways.
Prime among the pull factors was the live coverage accorded by NASA’s F-18 support aircraft while chasing Orbital’s L-1011 carrier aircraft.
The launch at a predetermined drop point, 39,000 feet high above the Atlantic Ocean had winged Pegasus XL rocket getting dropped at 8:37 a.m. EDT.
The launch was perfect as the 55-foot-booster’s stages fired without any hiccup and solemnly placed the satellites into a 317-mile high-orbit. When the third stage burn got over, the eight CYGNSS spacecrafts were released in pairs and made them fly on their own.
“All three stages performed beautifully, no issues at all with the Pegasus launch vehicle performance,” said NASA Launch Director Tim Dunn.
On the touch of the unconventionality of CYGNSS launch, by using a repurposed jet plane, Christine Bonniksen, CYGNSS program executive at NASA, said it was cheaper than a conventional vertical launch.
Mission And Mandate
Though CYGNSS’ lifetime is fixed for two years it may be extended, depending on the condition of the satellites.
At the operational level, CYGNSS will use radio signals from the GPS satellites to measure hurricane speed in the tropics as the storms originate between 35 degrees north and 35 degrees south.
Chris Ruf, principal investigator of CYGNSS, said science data is expected to flow in from early next week. One big plus of CYGNSS is that it can take measurements every seven hours given that tracking weather changes in less than a day is most important.
Hurricane Science Redefined
According to NASA, the microsatellites will be orbiting the Earth at an altitude of about 316 miles at an inclination of 35 degrees to the equator.
“This is going to be looking at hurricanes, it’s going to be focusing on the surface winds, which is the area of highest dynamic energy in a hurricane, which helps influence how intense the hurricane’s going to be,” said Christine Bonniksen, CYGNSS program executive at NASA Headquarters.
All the eight spacecraft will be processing GPS signals reflected from the oceans thanks to the scattering effect on water-reflected signals in calculating the wind speed.
Meanwhile, Mary Morris, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan said hurricanes are not the only area of study for the mission.
“Part of the science team is working on studies of soil moisture, and understanding the [Madden-Julian Oscillation],” which influences rainfall over the Indian Ocean.
The CYGNSS mission has plugged many weak points of Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) that needed three days to revisit a storm.
Earlier hurricane wind speeds were not measured perfectly as remote sensing technology could not “see” through the rain. But GPS signals used in CYGNSS satellites would be cutting through rains without any problem.
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