Rocket Lab launched two small NASA satellites to monitor tropical storms


Rocket Lab launched two toaster-sized satellites for NASA on Sunday, the first of four “cubesats” designed to provide hourly updates on typhoon and storm development to improve forecasts and provide new information on the evolution and intensity of tropical storms.

The E-rocket lifted off from Rocket Lab’s scenic Mahia launch pad in New Zealand, carrying two small NASA satellites designed to monitor the development of tropical storms.

rocket laboratory

“The threat to our friends and neighbors is real and recurring every year,” said Ben Kim, program manager for NASA’s Earth Sciences Division. The TROPICS mission, he said, “is aimed at improving our scientific understanding by taking microwave observations that allow us to see the internal structure of these storms on an almost hourly basis.

“These observations will complement existing weather satellites and may ultimately lead to a broader understanding of the entire Earth system.”

TROPICS, one of NASA’s more complex acronyms, stands for Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Patterns and Storm Intensity, Constellations of Small Stars. The $30 million budget mission will take advantage of the evolution of tiny electronics and cubesats capable of supporting science at great cost.

Cubesats are not intended to replace larger, more powerful and more expensive weather satellites. But they offer a low-cost way to complement “flagship” missions with additional science and a much shorter development time.

“We use a balanced portfolio of missions, from very large observatories like Landsat 9 at about 6,000 pounds to smaller satellites like TROPICS at about 12 pounds,” Kim said.

“This combination in our portfolio allows us to maximize science per taxpayer dollar, so we’re doing more science than we were focusing on big missions.”

The first two of the planned six TROPICS cubesats were lost last year when their Astra rocket failed during liftoff. NASA then transferred the remaining four powerplants to Rocket Lab’s more reliable Electron to launch them into orbit in time for this year’s tropical storm season.

The first of two missions, delayed by a week due to stormy weather, got off to a great start on Sunday with a launch from Rocket Lab’s scenic launch pad in Mahia, New Zealand at 9:00 p.m. EDT.

Artist’s impression of NASA’s TROPICS satellite studying a tropical storm from orbit. Four of these satellites allow hourly passes over developing storms to help scientists learn more about how storms develop and evolve.


The 59-foot-tall carbon composite rocket’s nine 3D-printed Rutherford engines collapsed and pushed the booster through the lower atmosphere before moving to the rocket’s second stage, which spun the craft. in orbit nine and a half minutes after liftoff from the original parking lot.

A third “kick” stage then finished the job, allowing TROPICS 3 and 4 to take off on their own about 33 minutes after launch. It was Rocket Lab’s 36th Electron launch and 16th consecutive successful flight.

If all goes well, Rocket Lab will launch TROPICS 5 and 6 by the end of the month to complete the four-satellite constellation. The four satellites operate in 341-mile-high orbits, taking them about 30 degrees either side of the equator, ideal for hourly “revisiting” observations of developing storms.

William Blackwell, principal investigator of TROPICS at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, said it is critical to obtain microwave observations of growing storms at fast revisit rates that provide insights into storm development and behavior. tropical storms.
“We’ve been doing (observations like this) from space for 40 years, but we haven’t been able to capture storm dynamics,” he said. “So the new clock cadence we get with the constellation moves us forward in terms of what observations we can make to explain how things change in the storm.”

The observations, combined with data collected by larger and more powerful meteorological satellites, should “improve our understanding of the underlying processes that drive storms and ultimately improve our ability to predict track and intensity.” “.

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