NASA has just begun deploying its constellation of “hurricane hunter” satellites, TROPICS (Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats). A constellation that will start with the limitation of having lost its first two satellites in the failed launch last year.
First satellites in orbit. An Electron rocket from the Rocket Lab company left yesterday Monday with a payload of two NASA satellites. Two satellites that, just over half an hour after launch, would become the first two satellites of the TROPICS mission, whose objective is to closely monitor hurricanes and other tropical cyclones.
The rocket departed from the company’s facility in Māhia, New Zealand at 03:00 CEST, 13:00 local time.
In the eye of the hurricane. Already located in an orbit at an altitude of about 550 km, these two satellites are ready to begin their mission. The devices will compile information on precipitation, temperature and humidity and will be able to help better estimate when these phenomena will make landfall, very valuable information when it comes to preventing their consequences.
“We will be getting data that we have never had before, which is this ability to look at storms in the spectrum region. [electromagnético] of microwaves, with an hourly cadence,” said Bill Blackwell, principal investigator of the mission in statements collected by Space.com.
Those responsible for the mission also explain that it will not only help improve weather forecasting but may also serve to further refine climate models.
From six hours to one. One of the advantages of this new system on which some emphasis has been placed is the increase in the frequency of hurricane monitoring. Today the satellites of US agencies are capable of making passes over hurricanes every six hours.
NASA’s original plan was to create a constellation of six satellites that would cover hurricanes every 50 minutes. After the loss of the first two cubesats, the planned constellation of four will still allow for passes every 75 minutes, which still results in a substantial improvement.
From two to eight weeks. Despite everything, NASA was already pointing to an assured partial success. The agency expert Will McCarty pointed out that “If we only achieve one of the two [lanzamientos] and we still have two satellites, there will still be a lot to learn through [sus] data”.
If all goes according to plan, the remaining two satellites will be launched into orbit in two weeks. NASA does, however, have a launch window of about 60 days. After that time, the two pairs of satellites could not synchronize properly.
The future of space collaboration. The success of this mission and the failure of the first attempt are two sides of the same coin, that of the growing cooperation between national space agencies and private companies. SpaceX led the way, but they are no longer the only ones on the market.
Both Astra (who made the first attempt) and Rocket Lab have already officially entered this market. The Electron rocket is for now the main asset of the American company in its objective of further reducing launch costs.
It’s not the only one. Rocket Lab is also involved in the development of a medium-sized rocket, Neutron, capable of putting eight tons into low Earth orbit. It will be, as planned, a two-stage vehicle and more than 40 meters high and its first flight is scheduled for next year.
In Xataka | Hurricanes are one of the most powerful forces, but there is a line they dare not cross: the equator.
Image | POT