First Pair Of Storm Observing Satellites Launched

Two satellites designed by NASA to study tropical cyclones, including hurricanes and typhoons, are in orbit after the successful launch on Monday.

The first pair of the U.S. space agency’s TROPICS CubeSats (Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats) lifted off aboard an Electron rocket from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 Pad B in Mahia, New Zealand. Team members successfully sent commands to the first CubeSat at 1:48 a.m. EDT, Monday. Subsequently, they established communications with the second CubeSat at 6:31 a.m. EDT.

TROPICS is a constellation of four identical CubeSats designed to observe tropical cyclones in a unique, inclined low Earth orbit over Earth’s tropics. This orbit allows the satellites to travel over any given storm about once in an hour. Current weather tracking satellites have a timing of about once every six hours, according to NASA.

“Providing more frequent imaging will not only improve our situational awareness when a hurricane forms,” said Karen St. Germain, director, Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The data will provide information to models that help us determine how a storm is changing over time, which in turn helps to improve forecasts from our partners like the National Hurricane Center and Joint Typhoon Warning Center,” he added.

NASA selected Rocket Lab USA Inc. of Long Beach, California, to provide the launch service for the agency’s TROPICS mission in November.

“Today’s launch service marks the first launch completed as part of the VADR contract, a significant milestone as we aim to enable greater access to space for science and technology missions,” said Bradley Smith, director, Launch Services for the Space Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. “We look forward to increasing storm tracking capabilities with another launch later this month to complete the TROPICS constellation,” he added.

The second pair of TROPICS CubeSats is planned to launch aboard another Rocket Lab Electron rocket in about two weeks, NASA said in a pres release. The second launch will be timed to insert the next two CubeSats into the TROPICS constellation.

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