NASA launches two small satellites to monitor hurricanes

2023-05-08 01:52:46

Two small NASA satellites to observe the evolution of hurricanes hour by hour took off Monday from New Zealand, aboard a rocket from the American company Rocket Lab.

The Electron rocket, which belongs to the category of micro-launchers and is only 18 meters high, took off at 1:00 p.m. local time (01:00 GMT) from Mahia, in the north of New Zealand, according to Rocket Lab.

The two satellites, Cubesats, weigh only about five kilos and will evolve at an altitude of some 550 kilometers. A second rocket is to be launched in about two weeks, again by Rocket Lab, which will carry two other satellites to complete this small constellation.

This will then have the capacity to return every hour above hurricanes (or typhoons on the Pacific), against every six hours currently. The mission was named TROPICS.

These satellites will allow scientists to no longer “only see what is happening at a given moment (…) but to really see how things are changing hour by hour”, explained during a press conference Will McCarty, scientist at NASA.

“We will always need the big satellites,” he added. “But what we can get from this mission is additional information to what the flagship satellites we already have.”

This information collected on precipitation, temperature and humidity can help improve weather forecasts, in particular where the hurricane will make landfall and at what intensity, and thus better prepare for possible evacuations of populations living on the coasts.

“Many organizations, such as the US National Hurricane Center and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, are ready to receive our images to help them keep their meteorologists informed,” said Ben Kim, also a NASA official.

In the longer term, better understanding the formation and evolution of these storms will improve climate models.

The constellation was originally supposed to have six satellites instead of four, but the first two were lost when a rocket from the American company Astra malfunctioned shortly after takeoff last year.

As the surface of the oceans warms, hurricanes (or typhoons) become more powerful, scientists say.

Hurricane Ian, which devastated Florida in 2022, claimed dozens of lives and alone caused more than $100 billion in damage, by far the costliest weather disaster in the world last year.

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