NOAA Launch Clears Way For Southwest Research Institute's First Satellite Offering

Nov 21, 2016

Saturday's launch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's latest weather satellite, the GOES-R clears the way for a constellation of satellites designed and built here in San Antonio to launch in the middle of next month. 

There are many differences between the GOES-R satellite, a high-tech but traditional weather satellite, and the CYGNSS, or Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System that is scheduled to launch December 12. Project Manager John Scherrer says from the cost, which is about a tenth of the GOES' billion dollar price tag, to the mission focus, but the most apparent difference is obviously the size.

"Maybe not the size of a bus, but the size of a couple of cars," says Scherrer.

While the size of one of CYGNSS' satellites? 

"That's the size of a carry-on suitcase," he says.

Scherrer runs Space Science for the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and he thinks these kinds of smaller satellites are the future of space science, a niche he hopes SwRI fills after this its first satellite offering.

CYGNSS - which is a constellation of eight micro satellites - will collect hurricane wind speed data with a GPS scatterometer, a method that has never been utilized from space.

"It can operate through rain, which none of the existing techniques from space can do. So this will be the first time we can measure wind underneath heavy rain, particularly in hurricanes," says Chris Ruf, principle investigator on the mission.  

Ruf, who will run the data out of his University of Michigan lab, says that while the technology for tracking hurricanes has steadily improved over the past 50 years, the measurements of storm intensity haven't significantly changed. The lack of this vital information has meant disaster for coastal communities.

CYGNSS will hopefully improve this.

"Our simulations show that there is a clear positive impact, a significant impact," says Ruf

The satellites are expected to be deployed and calibrated in time for the 2017 hurricane season.

An earlier version of this story identified the GPS Scatterometer as a Spectrometer.