NASA has begun building the first of the eight microsatellites the agency plans to launch into low-earth orbit, where they will monitor hurricane and cyclone formation and strength. Called the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS), the project received more than $150 million in funding in 2012, but construction on the briefcase-sized machines only started this August.
Hurricane hunter airplanes and satellites already monitor the storms, but the University of Michigan, the academic institution leading the project, points out that CYGNSS will focus on the dynamic inner core of hurricanes; the low-frequency GPS data from these new satellites can capture the bands of heavy rain and areas beneath eye wall, according to NASA, offering a heretofore unprecedented data (larger, older satellites with higher-frequency signals can’t pierce the veil of intense rain). From their vantage at an orbit inclination 35 degrees from the equator, the satellites will take 32 wind measurements per second.
University of Michigan’s Chris Ruf told Satellite Today that this orbital constellation won’t dramatically change the way we predict the path of hurricanes, but by looking through the rain frequently and with clarity, the machines will provide vastly improved hurricane strength forecasts. The launch is planned for fall 2016.