The second set of NASA’s TROPICS CubeSats completed the agency’s hurricane-observation miniconstellation Thursday night (May 25).
Two small satellites were thrown on top of each other Rocket Lab Electron vehicle from the company’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand’s North Island at 11:46 p.m. EDT (0346 GMT on May 26) on Thursday.
The Electron CubeSat pair deployed 34 minutes later as scheduled, Rocket Lab said. Confirmed via Twitter.
The launch was originally targeted for midnight EDT (0400 GMT) Thursday, but the rocket lab Pushed back almost 24 hours Due to bad weather.
The launch, titled “A Storm Near You,” was the second such launch for the rocket lab. Tropics ProjectIt’s called “Time-Resolved Observations of the Precipitation System and Storm Intensity with the Small Chutes Constellation.”
Related: Facts about the Rocket Lab’s Electron Rocket
Payload deployment confirmed! Congratulations to the launch team and our mission partners at @NASA @NASA_LSP @NASAAMes on our 37th Electron launch: the TROPICS constellation is officially in orbit! pic.twitter.com/xAy7ltg7m1May 26, 2023
The rocket lab’s previous TROPICS launch, dubbed “Rocket Like a Hurricane,” sent two CubeSats of four spacecraft into low Earth orbit. On May 7. All four satellites are expected to be operational by the time the 2023 hurricane season begins in North America.
“Every year the number of hurricanes we experience is increasing Climate changeAnd the intensity of these storms is increasing,” said Jane McNicol, the rocket lab’s mission manager, during a May 7 prelaunch press conference.
“Current technology in orbit to monitor cyclone development can only check these storms every two hours, but within that time, we can see a slight increase in storm intensity,” he added.
McNichol said TROPICS will analyze extreme tropical storms almost hourly based on precipitation, temperature and humidity. Such data has the potential to save lives and livelihoods, he asserted.
TROPICS CubeSats sit in a unique low-Earth orbit in the tropics of the planet. Their orbits are tilted so they can pass over any storm once an hour.
NASA officials say the rapid update of microwave measurements by the TROPICS is a big boost. Current weather monitoring satellites can make similar measurements, but only 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. said in a statement earlier this month. “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.”
Rocket Lab is the second company to launch Tropics CubeSats. The first, California-based Astra, attempted to lift two of them in June 2022, but its rocket suffered an in-flight anomaly and the cubesats were lost. NASA then selected the rocket lab to launch the remaining four Tropics craft on two missions.
Those two flights were originally set to launch later this year from the rocket lab’s U.S. base at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Space Station at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. But the location has been shifted to the New Zealand base so that the four TROPICS cubesats can fly soon and be ready for the storm season in the Northern Hemisphere.
The TROPICS constellation orbits Earth at an altitude of about 342 miles (550 kilometers) at an inclination of about 30 degrees. All four units in the constellation must be used within 60 days to be effective.
“The ability to improve our understanding of tropical cyclones from space has been limited by the ability to take frequent measurements, particularly with microwave instruments that observe storms,” said Will McCarty, project scientist for the TROPICS mission. Reported on April 10. “Historically, satellites have been too large and expensive to provide observations at time-frequencies that coincide with the time scales on which tropical cyclones can form.”
McCarty added that the CubeSat era has allowed for smaller, less expensive satellites, allowing for constellation design that improves the scientific utility of the mission and facilitates lower-cost launches.
“These factors provide the TROPICS with a new understanding of tropical cyclones by shortening the time it takes for a storm to be revisited by satellites,” he said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on May 24 at 9:15 PM ET with a new target launch on May 25 at 11:30 PM EDT, and then again on May 26 at 1 AM ET with news of the successful launch and satellite deployment.