NASA & Space News
(NASA) — Two NASA CubeSats designed to study tropical cyclones, including hurricanes and typhoons, are in orbit after successfully launching at 1 p.m. Monday, NZST (9 p.m. EDT Sunday).
The agency’s first pair of TROPICS (time-resolved observations of precipitation structure and storm intensity) were launched aboard an Electron rocket from the Rocket Laboratory’s Launch Complex 1 pad B in Mahia, New Zealand.
Crew members successfully sent commands to the first CubeSat at 1:48 a.m. EDT on May 8. Subsequently, they established communication with the second CubeSat at 6:31 am EDT.
TROPICS is a cluster of four identical cubesats designed to track tropical cyclones in a unique, inclined low-Earth orbit over the Earth’s troposphere—allowing it to travel through any given storm once an hour. Current weather monitoring satellites have a timing of once every six hours.
„Providing more frequent imaging can improve our situational awareness as a hurricane develops,” said Karen St. Germain, director of the Earth Sciences Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
„The data will provide information to models that help determine how storms change over time, which helps improve forecasts from our partners like the National Hurricane Center and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.”
On November 23, 2022, Rocket Lab USA Inc. of Long Beach, California, was selected as part of a VADR (Venture-Class Acquisition and Commitment and Rightshare) contract to provide launch services for the agency’s TROPICS mission. NASA announced that it had selected
„Today’s launch mission marks the first launch completed as part of the VADR contract, a significant milestone aimed at enabling greater access to space for science and technology missions,” said Bradley Smith, director of launch services for the Space Operations Directorate. At NASA headquarters.
„We look forward to increasing storm monitoring capabilities with another launch later this month to complete the Tropics constellation.”
A second pair of TROPICS CubeSats is scheduled to launch on another Rocket Lab Electron rocket in about two weeks. The second launch is timed to insert the next two CubeSats into the TROPICS constellation.
“We are very proud of our partners including MIT Lincoln Labs, Blue Canyon Technologies, KSAT and Rocket Lab for making this first launch a success. We look forward to having the entire galaxy in orbit to realize the benefits for the agency and our colleagues around the world,” said Ben Kim, Tropics Program Administrator for NASA’s Earth Sciences Division.
The TROPICS team is led by Principal Investigator Bill Blackwell at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts, and includes researchers from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and several universities and commercial partners.
NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida manages the launch service.
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