A new kind of weather observation system was launched by NASA today that will provide information to help better monitor and forecast tropical cyclones around the world. The 8-microsatellite constellation of observatories was the brainchild of a group of scientists from the University of Michigan. UM Rosenstiel School Professor Sharan Majumdar and Dr. Robert Atlas, Director of NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) were tasked with assembling and guiding a team of researchers to conduct data impact studies on hurricane model analyses and predictions.
After three days of delays, the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) was carried aloft aboard Orbital ATK’s Stargazer L-1011 aircraft, inside a three-stage Pegasus XL rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and launched over the Atlantic Ocean at 7:38 a.m. EST on Thursday, December 15. At approximately 40,000 feet over the western Atlantic Ocean, the Pegasus rocket was released from the aircraft at 8:38 a.m. The rocket was then launched in mid-air to take all 8 CYGNSS spacecraft in to orbit around Earth.
Once in orbit, CYGNSS will make frequent and accurate measurements of ocean surface winds throughout the lifecycle of tropical storms and hurricanes. The constellation of eight observatories will measure surface winds in and near a hurricane’s inner core, including regions beneath the eyewall and intense inner rainbands that previously could not be measured from space because of the heavy precipitation.
“The University of Miami and NOAA AOML team has demonstrated the potential for CYGNSS data to improve numerical analyses and predictions of the surface wind structure in tropical cyclones. We expect that the investment in new microsatellite technologies such as CYGNSS will pave the way for better predictions of tropical cyclone impacts to benefit society around the globe,” said Majumdar.
Majumdar and colleagues wrote about the scientific motivation and the primary science goal of the mission, which is to better understand how and why winds in hurricanes intensify, in a March 2016 article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.
The local CYGNSS research team included Sharan Majumdar and Brian McNoldy from the UM Rosenstiel School, Robert Atlas from NOAA AOML, and Bachir Annane, Javier Delgado and Lisa Bucci (also a UM graduate student) from the UM Rosenstiel School’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Science (CIMAS). They have been working with simulated CYGNSS data since early 2013 to demonstrate and maximize the data’s impact in hurricane forecast models through the use of an OSSE, or Observing System Simulation Experiment, summarized by McNoldy in a NASA blog post.
Learn more about the hurricane-probing mission on NASA’s website.
–UM Rosenstiel School Communications Office