NASA sends eight small satellites into orbit to help monitor hurricanes

Just over an hour after sunrise on Thursday morning a Pegasus rocket launched from a plane 39,000 feet above the eastern coast of Florida, according to The Associated Press. Five seconds later, the rocket fired a swarm of weather satellites toward an orbit 300 miles above Earth. This was the beginning of NASA’s $157 million Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS), which will offer scientists unprecedented information about hurricanes.

The eight weather satellites launched from the rocket are unlike those already in orbit. For one, they’re small — each weighs just 64 pounds and has a 5-foot wingspan. And the spacecraft are equipped with GPS navigation receivers that can see through the clouds and rain to the core of hurricanes in order to measure the ocean’s roughness. Weather scientists will then use this information to determine wind speed and storm intensity.

A Pegasus rocket carrying eight small satellites launches from a plane 100 miles east of Daytona Beach, Florida.
A Pegasus rocket carrying eight small satellites launches from a plane 100 miles east of Daytona Beach, Florida. NASA via AP

Over the next few months, the satellites will be tested before providing comprehensive scientific data to NASA and the National Weather Service in time for the start of the hurricane season on June 1.

The initial launch was delayed from December 12 due to a tripped circuit breaker that was identified on the plane. A separate software issue resulted in another rescheduling from December 14.

The CYGNSS launch comes almost a month after NASA launched GOES-16 (previously known as GOES-R), the most sophisticated weather satellite that has ever been sent into orbit. GOES-16 uses an array of instruments that point toward Earth, the Sun, and into space in order to monitor a range of events that include lightning, solar flares, and magnetic storms.

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