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New NASA satellite to better forecast hurricanes

Artist’s concept of one of the eight Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System satellites deployed in the space above a hurricane. (Credit: NASA)

As hurricanes continue to lead to a greater impact due to factors such as climate change, NASA is working on a new hurricane-tracking satellites up and running by the beginning of 2019.

The government space agency is currently testing a group of eight micro-satellites to measure factors such as “wind speeds over earth’s oceans, increasing the ability of scientists to understand and predict hurricanes,” in a mission known as the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS).

As part of a series of environmental tests for NASA’s CYGNSS constellation, one of the eight microsatellites is placed in a radio-frequency (RF) anechoic chamber.

(Credit: NASA)

Current tracking technology forecasts with an accuracy that is the path of a hurricane, but are still not able to accurately measure a storm’s intensity.

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With the new system, NASA hopes to better advise meteorologists and to help people who are likely to be affected by the hurricane.

“The fact that we have a much better understanding of where these storms are going is a great first step,” said Steve Bowen, director and meteorologist for the insurer, Aon Benfield’s Impact Forecasting team in an interview with Reuters.

“We have a kind of half circle is filled, and we need that other half is completed, is that the intensity component,” he said.

Predicting the strength of a hurricane is based on knowing where it gets its energy from, which can be tricky to do if it happens.

To do that, a hurricane hunter aircraft flown into the storm, where the measure of inputs, such as wind speed from a weather buoy, the Daily Mail reported, a technique known as scatterometry. Or it may rely on satellites that fly over the storm, but they will only do this once every other day.

“The CYGNSS satellites will only receive signals sent to them from GPS satellites already orbiting the Earth and the reflection of the same satellite signal is reflected by the earth,” NASA said on its website.

The satellites themselves are not transmitted, which, according to the mission of the principal investigator of the University of Michigan’s Chris Ruf, will result in a significant cost savings.

CYGNSS will come at a cost of $157 million, the Mail reported.

When NASA gave the prize to the Ruf and his team in 2012, it was a period of five years a deal for $151.7 million, including “beginning of the development, introduction, implementation, and data analysis.”

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Each of CYGNSS mini-satellites weighing only a fraction of the regular satellites, 64 pounds, and has a 5-meter wingspan. They fly in a low orbit, where they use the same GPS technology to see in cars and go over the tropics every few hours.

“This sampling strategy will overcome the limitations of a previous single, broad-swath approach,” said Ruf, according to NASA.

The data will be shared with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and to help them with the extreme weather conditions, the schedule, the e-Mail added.

The advantage of CYGNSS is clear, and not only in the acquisition of more data in real time, which can be connected to models.

In addition to helping people prepare, it can save lives. According to Reuters, more than 1,000 people were killed by Hurricane Matthew, after it turned into a Category 5 storm. In 2017 a report of the U. S. National Hurricane Center said that it failed to adequately predict how intense the storm would get.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia

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