The first of the hurricane-monitoring hand-luggage sized satellites is being built by engineers at the Southwest Research Institute

Nasa's new micro-satellite constellation to look hurricanes in the eye

A constellation of eight micro-satellites currently being built by Nasa will improve hurricane forecasting and enable scientists to study processes in the eye of the hurricanes in detail for the first time. 

The constellation, called CYGNSS, for Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, will cooperate with GPS satellites to measure wind speeds over the entire tropics every few hours.

Each of the satellites will be about the size of an airline carry-on suitcase and weigh less than 30kg.

The satellites will circle the Earth in low-Earth orbit and rely on both direct and reflected signals from existing GPS satellites to obtain estimates of surface wind speeds over the ocean.

CYGNSS together with GPS will provide the ability to measure ocean surface winds and conditions near the eye wall of tropical cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes throughout their lifecycle. This capability will allow scientists to better predict rapid changes that can occur in the hurricanes and result in widespread damage, such as in the case of hurricane Katrina ten years ago.

The first of the eight-strong CYGNSS constellation is currently being built at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.

The University of Michigan is directing the mission, scheduled for launch in late 2016.

Earlier this summer, the CYGNSS mission successfully passed two major Nasa reviews, clearing the way for integration, testing and preparation of the microsatellites for flight.

“These reviews were a major milestone for CYGNSS, marking the end of the detailed design and planning stages of the mission and the beginning of flight hardware assembly,” said Chris Ruf, CYGNSS principal investigator at the University of Michigan. “We are now in the last phase of the mission prior to launch and the beginning of a new era in hurricane observations.”


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