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December 16, 2016
NASA’s CYGNSS Launch Takes Surrey Satellite’s Space GNSS Receiver into Orbit

Surrey Satellite Technology’s Space GNSS Receiver Remote Sensing Instrument (SGR-ReSI) is the primary payload onboard NASA’s CYGNSS constellation, launched today, Dec. 15, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) mission is part of the NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder Program that aims to improve extreme weather prediction by studying how tropical cyclones form.

Example of a CYGNSS Microsatellite Observatory. (Image: Southwest Research Institute)

Example of a CYGNSS Microsatellite Observatory. (Image: Southwest Research Institute)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The CYGNSS space segment consists of a constellation of eight micro satellites, each carrying the Surrey SGR-ReSI as the observatory payload in the form of a delay Doppler mapping instrument (DDMI). Making use of reflected global positioning signals, the DDMI collects ocean surface roughness data using a technique called GNSS reflectometry, providing CYGNSS with a new method for looking inside hurricanes. Wind speed will be estimated from this reflectometry data.

“At the end of last year, we delivered the SGR-ReSI flight models, low-noise amplifiers, and antennas to Southwest Research Institute for final integration into the CYGNSS observatories — marking a significant hardware shipment out of our Englewood, Colorado, manufacturing facility,” said Clare Martin, vice president of programs at Surrey Satellite Technology U.S.. “All of us at Surrey are proud that our instrument is playing an integral role in this mission, and we will watch with great interest as the satellites are put to work.”

Once the deployment module on the Orbital ATK Pegasus XL launch vehicle reaches its final altitude of approximately 510 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, the eight CYGNSS microsatellite observatories will be deployed in opposing pairs over a two minute period. (Image credit: University of Michigan)

Once the deployment module on the Orbital ATK Pegasus XL launch vehicle reaches its final altitude of approximately 510 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, the eight CYGNSS microsatellite observatories will be deployed in opposing pairs over a two minute period. (Image: University of Michigan)

The CYGNSS team is made up of the University of Michigan Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Surrey Satellite Technology and Sierra Nevada Corporation.

Surrey Satellite Technology demonstrated the concept of GNSS reflectometry for the first time on its UK-DMC mission launched in 2003, and subsequently developed the SGR-ReSI, which is currently flying on Surrey’s TechDemoSat-1 mission.

CYGNSS is NASA’s first Earth science small satellite constellation, designed to help improve forecasting hurricane intensity, hurricane tracks and storm surges.

CYGNSS will measure previously unknown details crucial to accurately understanding the formation and intensity of tropical cyclones and hurricanes.

“This is a first-of-its-kind mission,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “As a constellation of eight spacecraft, CYGNSS will do what a single craft can’t in terms of measuring surface wind speeds inside hurricanes and tropical cyclones at high time-resolution, to improve our ability to understand and predict how these deadly storms develop.”

Image credit: Southwest Research Institute

Image credit: Southwest Research Institute

The CYGNSS mission is expected to lead to more accurate weather forecasts of wind speeds and storm surges — the walls of water that do the most damage when hurricanes make landfall.

Using the same GPS technology that allows drivers to navigate streets, CYGNSS will use a constellation of eight micro satellite observatories to measure the surface roughness of the world’s oceans. Mission scientists will use the data collected to calculate surface wind speeds, providing a better picture of a storm’s strength and intensity.

Unlike existing operational weather satellites, CYGNSS can penetrate the heavy rain of a hurricane’s eyewall to gather data about a storm’s intense inner core. The eyewall is the thick ring of thunderstorm clouds and rain that surrounds the calm eye of a hurricane. The inner core region acts like the engine of the storm by extracting energy from the warm surface water via evaporation into the atmosphere.

cygnss-logoThe latent heat contained in the water vapor is then released into the atmosphere by condensation and precipitation. The intense rain in eyewalls blocks the view of the inner core by conventional satellites, however, preventing scientists from gathering much information about this key region of a developing hurricane.

“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.”

The CYGNSS small satellite observatories will continuously monitor surface winds over the oceans across Earth’s tropical hurricane-belt latitudes. Each satellite is capable of capturing four wind measurements per second, adding as many as 32 wind measurements per second for the entire constellation.

CYGNSS is the first complete orbital mission competitively selected by NASA’s Earth Venture program. Earth Venture focuses on low-cost, rapidly developed, science-driven missions to enhance our understanding of the current state of Earth and its complex, dynamic system and enable continual improvement in the prediction of future changes.

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