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San Antonio-Born Satellites To Fly Through 2023

Artistic Rendering of the the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, a network of eight, suit-cased sized microsatellites.
Courtesy NASA
Artistic Rendering of the the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, a network of eight, suit-cased sized microsatellites.

A project aiming to revolutionize hurricane intensity prediction just got a big boost from NASA.

The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System or CYGNSS (SIG-Niss) was a constellation of eight microsatellites launched in late 2016. It was built at San Antonio's Southwest Research Institute. On Monday NASA announced it would continue to fly through 2023, the second extension to the life of the suitcase-sized satellites.

The project uses a novel technique to measure windspeed in the depths of a storm, something that currently requires special Air Force planes fly through hurricanes to accomplish.

“Our ability to forecast the strengthening of hurricanes has been improved by CYGNSS measurements of their inner core winds, which allow us to track the transfer of energy from the warm ocean water into the atmosphere…,” said Chris Ruff principal scientist on the CYGNSS mission and professor at the University of Michigan on the mission blog.

Predicting hurricane intensity has not improved in 50 years, while hurricane tracking and prediction has improved dramatically in recent decades. Intensity and storm surge determine how much damage is done to inland communities.

CYGNSS’ ocean wind measurements were added to the Hurricane Weather Research and Forecast System model used by the National Hurricane Center for comparison purposes in 2019, and was able to better predict storms.

The satellites use GPS signals to penetrate storms, but also measure surface ocean windspeed and soil moisture, even through dense vegetation. The satellites have proved adept at predicting inland flooding under certain circumstances

“Moving forward, we continue adapting the mission for new investigations related to tropical cyclones, oceanography and land science applications among many others,” said SwRI’s Jillian Redfern, CYGNSS project manager in a release.

The mission will be reevaluated in coming years for a possible third mission extension through 2026.

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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org