NASA’s CYGNSS Mission Passes Major Milestone

Thermal vacuum (shown) and other environmental tests of the CYGNSS microsatellites wrapped last month at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. The final series of tests will soon commence on all eight observatories, stacked in the final launch configuration. (Credit: Southwest Research Institute)
Thermal vacuum (shown) and other environmental tests of the CYGNSS microsatellites wrapped last month at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. The final series of tests will soon commence on all eight observatories, stacked in the final launch configuration. (Credit: Southwest Research Institute)

SAN ANTONIO (SwRI PR) — NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) mission took another major step last month as the eight CYGNSS microsatellites successfully completed functional and environmental testing of their systems and software. The mission is on track for launch in late 2016.

CYGNSS will probe the inner core of hurricanes in greater detail to better understand their rapid intensification.

During the past few months, the CYGNSS observatories have undergone tests at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. These tests simulated the harsh environments of space and launch, including separation and deployment, vibration, and electromagnetic interference. Additionally, all of the spacecraft were placed in a vacuum chamber and cycled through the extreme hot and cold temperatures they will face in orbit.

With testing complete on the individual observatories, they will now be assembled into a flight stack — the final positioning for launch — for the concluding series of environmental tests. Upon completion, the observatories will be transported to Vandenberg Air Force Base for mating with the Pegasus launch vehicle just before the ferry flight to the Florida launch site.

The goal of CYGNSS is to improve hurricane intensity forecasts. The instrument aboard the eight CYGNSS spacecraft will measure surface winds in and near the inner core of hurricanes, including regions within the eye wall and intense inner rainbands that could not previously be measured from space. The CYGNSS-measured wind fields, when combined with precipitation fields from other satellites will provide coupled observations of moist atmospheric thermodynamics and ocean surface response, enabling new insights into hurricane inner core dynamics and energetics.

CYGNSS will launch in late 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a Pegasus XL rocket from an Orbital ATK Stargazer L-1011 aircraft. CYGNSS is funded by NASA’s Earth Science Division through its Earth System Science Pathfinder Program Office and developed by the Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering (CLaSP) department and Space Physics Research Laboratory (SPRL) at the University of Michigan.

Maria Stothoff
Southwest Research Institute

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