8 New ‘Micro-satellites’ to Spy on Hurricanes in Hopes of Improving Forecasts


Sometimes smaller is better.

A new constellation of eight “micro-satellites” — each about the size of a full-grown swan — that should improve hurricane forecasts is scheduled to launch into orbit in mid-December.

The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, or CYGNSS, is NASA’s first small satellite constellation devoted to Earth science and also the first that’s focused specifically on the tropics, according to Christine Bonniksen, NASA program executive for the mission.

The $151 million satellite system will gather key details about winds just above the ocean surface, which are crucial for hurricane intensity forecasts, NASA said.

Though hurricane track forecast accuracy has improved in the past few decades, there have been few advances in intensity forecast accuracy, experts say. This mission is specifically targeted to investigate how and why hurricanes rapidly strengthen.

Using GPS technology, the satellites will be able to peer through rain and clouds to determine the wind speed just above the surface of the ocean by measuring the “ocean roughness,” said Chris Ruf, a University of Michigan professor and the principal investigator for the mission. Previously, this weather data had only been available from hurricane hunter airplanes sent out to analyze the storms.

“This will allow us to understand how hurricanes grow and predict how strong they’ll be,” Bonniksen said. The eight satellites will orbit around the world in 95 minutes and will be sending back data 24/7.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Doyle Rice