Video by NASA
Eight NASA microsatellites tasked with tracking hurricanes dropped out of an airplane above the Atlantic Ocean on Thursday and shot into orbit around the Earth.
A carrier aircraft released the Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rocket at 39,000 feet above Florida’s east coast this morning. The 51,000-pound rocket ignited after a 5-second free fall, flying out of Earth’s atmosphere.
Fifteen minutes later, four pairs of the GPS satellites shot off from the rocket to begin orbiting Earth, USA Today reported.
All eight satellites successfully entered orbit at 4 p.m., Chris Ruf, the mission’s principal investigator, told the NewsHour.
“I’m ecstatic and exhausted at the same time,” said Ruf, a professor of atmospheric science and electrical engineering at the University of Michigan.
Ruf and his team plan to turn on the machines next week so they can begin receiving signals.
The satellites use GPS technology to forecast hurricanes from outer space as a part of NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System. They fly in an equally-spaced line around the Earth, covering the tropical regions of the globe about every 12 minutes, Ruf said.
Each one will measure wind speed through GPS signals bouncing between off of the ocean. If the waters are calm, the return signal will be stronger. If there are rough seas or high winds, such as those found in hurricane-like conditions, the signal will be weaker, Ruf said.
The satellites are small and use a new cost-effective broadcasting system. With a $157 million price tag, they are also considered low-cost by NASA standards, USA Today reported.
Ruf said that the GPS technology has existed for some time, but it has not been combined with smaller satellites in the past. Doing so is more cost effective and delivers more data, he said.
The mission was initially planned for November, but Hurricane Matthew damaged the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station where the mission originated, NASA said.