NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS), a constellation of eight microsatellites that will take detailed measurement of wind speeds inside hurricanes, successfully completed the development and on-orbit commissioning phases of its mission and moved into the science operations phase. The spacecraft have begun their science instrument calibration and validation, and are on track to deliver the first science data in May 2017, just in time for the start of the Atlantic hurricane season.
“All spacecraft have completed their on-orbit engineering tests and are performing to specification,” said Randy Rose, CYGNSS project systems engineer at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio, which designed and built the spacecraft.
The CYGNSS spacecraft, launched into low-inclination, low-Earth orbit over the tropics on Dec. 15, 2016, will make frequent measurements of ocean surface winds in and near a hurricane’s inner core, an area that has proven difficult to probe accurately from space. CYGNSS can measure surface winds using GPS signals reflected by the ocean surface, which can penetrate through the intense rain in a storm’s eye wall.
During the last several decades, forecasters have significantly improved hurricane path prediction, but their ability to predict the intensity of storms has lagged. With data from CYGNSS, forecasters hope to improve hurricane intensity forecasts by better understanding how storms rapidly intensify.
“With CYGNSS, we’re doing important, breakthrough science with a constellation of satellites that are literally small enough to sit on your desk,” said John Scherrer, a program director in SwRI’s Space Science and Engineering Division, which oversaw satellite construction. “While these satellites might be small, they provide big returns with data that we expect to one day help weather forecasters make important weather-related forecasts such as storm-related damage projections and reliable evacuation orders.”
SwRI’s office in Boulder, Colo., hosts the mission operations center, which commands the spacecraft, collects telemetry, and transmits the data to the science operations center based at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.