NASA and Rocket Lab successfully launched satellites into orbit on Monday that are intended to provide more awareness about the development of tropical storms like hurricanes and cyclones.
The first two CubeSats, or square-shaped miniature satellites, were sent into orbit on an Electron rocket from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex in Māhia, New Zealand at 1 p.m. New Zealand Standard Time on Monday, or 9 p.m. EDT on Sunday.
The CubeSats are part of four-piece constellation of satellites called TROPICS, or Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats.
The constellation is designed to observe tropical cyclones from a unique, inclined low Earth orbit of the tropics.
The orbit allows the satellites to travel over any given storm about once per hour, compared to current weather tracking satellites that allow for similar coverage once every six hours.
"Providing more frequent imaging will not only improve our situational awareness when a hurricane forms," Karen St. Germain, director of the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington said. "The data will provide information to models that help us determine how a storm is changing over time, which in turn helps to improve forecasts from our partners like the National Hurricane Center and Joint Typhoon Warning Center."
The second pair of CubeSats are expected to be launched on another Rocket Lab rocket in about two weeks.
NASA partnered with the California-based Rocket Lab USA Inc. for its TROPICs mission in November 2022. The partnership was part of the Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare, or VADR, contract.
"Today’s launch service marks the first launch completed as part of the VADR contract, a significant milestone as we aim to enable greater access to space for science and technology missions," Bradley Smith, the director of Launch Services for the Space Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters said. "We look forward to increasing storm tracking capabilities with another launch later this month to complete the TROPICS constellation."