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CYGNSS storm-tracking satellites release first data

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EnlargeMaps showing data collected by CYGNSS
IMAGE:  These maps show measurements of ocean surface wind speeds made by four of the eight CYGNSS spacecraft on March 6, 2017, as Tropical Cyclone Enawo approaches landfall on Madagascar. The times of the measurements are, from top to bottom: 1830, 1930, and 2030 UTC (1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. EST).

A constellation of eight hurricane-tracking microsatellites has begun releasing data, timed to coincide with the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season on June 1.

CYGNSS, a Michigan Engineering-led mission, is now regularly producing measurements of ocean surface wind speed and roughness. The public release of these data is facilitated by the NASA Physical Oceanography Distributed Active Archive Center.

CYGNSS was launched into low inclination, low-Earth orbit over the tropics on December 15, 2016. It will make frequent measurements of ocean surface winds in the tropics, with a primary objective of monitoring the location, intensity, size, and development of tropical cyclones.

In March, CYGNSS successfully demonstrated its ability to track the development of surface winds in a major storm when it flew over Tropical Cyclone Enawo as the system approached Madagascar with surface winds in excess of 100 mph.

“Successive spacecraft in the constellation observed Enawo over a period of several hours just before it made landfall on Madagascar,” explained Chris Ruf, U-M professor of climate and space sciences and engineering and CYGNSS principal investigator. “During the flyover, four of our eight spacecraft were operating in science mode and we managed to capture important elements of the size and structure of the storm.”

Into the Storm
Clouds on the horizon

The most turbulent region of a hurricane holds secrets about its potential for destruction. Read about a U-M alum who experienced this first-hand in a hurricane-hunter turboprop, and go behind the scenes of the launch and development of CYGNSS—which promises unprecedented data about one of the planet’s most powerful natural phenomena.

At that time the other four spacecraft were still undergoing engineering commissioning activities.

“Those activities are now largely complete and, as we enter the Atlantic hurricane season, we expect to have all eight of them available for science observations.”

The CYGNSS mission is led by the University of Michigan. The Southwest Research Institute led the engineering development and manages the operation of the constellation. The University of Michigan Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering department leads the science investigation, and the Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate oversees the mission.

Maps showing data collected by CYGNSS
Portrait of EJ Olsen


EJ Olsen
Marketing Communications Specialist

Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering

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  • Chris Ruf

    Chris Ruf

    Professor of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering

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