University, NASA announce upcoming $151 million satellite launch

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 - 7:27pm

A project created by Christopher Ruf, professor of atmospheric science and electrical engineering at the University of Michigan, will culminate with the launch of a $151 million Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System Dec. 12.

The launch was announced Friday by the University. CYGNSS, whose inaugural flight will be from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, has been a collaborative effort between Ruf’s team and NASA.

Ruf said the project aims to measure previously unknown details on hurricane systems, such as surface winds and precipitation fields, to provide more frequent and accurate measurements throughout the life cycle of tropical storms and hurricanes. According to a NASA press release, the project will be a “fundamental improvement in hurricane forecasting.”

EJ Olson, marketing and communications specialist for the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences in the College of Engineering, said CYGNSS is revolutionary because of its ability to penetrate the heavy rain of a hurricane’s eyewall.

“This will give scientists, for first time, the ability to see into the eye of the storm, and give a better understanding of sea process during these events,” Olson said. “We have a team of scientist here at Michigan, along with a few Ph.D.s, for this project. It has truly been a department-wide effort.”

According to NASA’s blog on the project, CYGNSS will be able to penetrate the eyes of storms through a system of eight microsatellite observatories. Through GPS technology, the stations will measure radio waves reflected from the Earth originally caused by satellites used for phone calls, Internet and many other common uses.

Each of the eight satellites will carry a GPS receiver that measures the strength of the signal from the Earth's oceans. When the signal is strong, this means the ocean is in a state of calm; if it is weak, there is a lot of wave activity with strong winds.


In a May interview with NASA, Damen Provost, project manager and physics researcher at the University, said they were testing the satellites using several methods to ensure their continued functionality in the hostile environment of space.

“For the space environment, there are thermal and vacuum issues, so we have a chamber that can simulate what CYGNSS will see in orbit,” Provost said. “We have a vibration table that can shake it, it is a bumpy ride up to space. If anything breaks we want to make sure we can fix it here on the ground.”

CYGNSS is expected to be used for two hurricane seasons and will return to Earth after about two years in orbit.