Nov. 7, 2016, 8:45 a.m.
Figure 1 Tropical cyclone track forecasts have improved in accuracy by ~50% since 1990, but there has been essentially no improvement in the accuracy of intensity forecasts. We need wind measurements IN the hurricane.Credit: NOAA/NWS NASA has embraced the revolution in small spacecraft and satellites, from CubeSats you can hold in your hand to microsatellites the size of a small washing machine. The technology helps advance scientific and human exploration, reduces the cost of new missions, and expands access to space. The briefing will discuss NASA and Naval Research Laboratory (black/white part of image) Figure 11 With 12 individual CubeSats, one of the TROPICS constellation CubeSats will fly over any part of the tropics (between 40 degrees latitude North and South) about every half hour. This frequent revisit time will allow the mission to capture the quickly changing features of tropical cyclones as they progress. Each CubeSat in the constellation is about the size of a loaf of bread and weighs eight pounds, flying 350 miles above Earth. They each host a sophisticated microwave instrument that scans across Earth’s surface once every two seconds to provide three-dimensional information on the storm’s structure, like a CAT-Scan. The CubeSats’ small size (relative to present weather satellites that can be almost as large as a SUV) allows them to be built and launched quickly and at low cost.Credit: MIT Lincoln Laboratory Figure 12 Each TROPICS CubeSat has three things: the science instrument, solar panels, and the spacecraft bus which runs the whole operation. The bus manages the power system, controls the spin and orientation of the instrument as well as its operation, and communicates with the ground over a radio link. Over the last five years, technology has advanced rapidly to miniaturize the systems of both the spacecraft bus and the science instrument. This has led to the development of advanced components such as reaction wheels that spin up to 10,000 rotations per minute inside the spacecraft to keep it stable and high-resolution cameras that continuously track stars in the sky to enable attitude determination. Previous NASA-funded CubeSat missions serve as pathfinders and test beds for these new technologies. One example that feeds into the TROPICS mission is the MiRaTA CubeSat project, led by Prof. Kerri Cahoy at MIT. Many of the key microwave instrument technologies were first developed and tested by the MiRaTA project, reducing risk for the TROPICS mission.Credit: MIT Lincoln Laboratory Figure 13 The TROPICS and MiRaTA projects are made up of a broad team drawing from a national lab (MIT Lincoln Laboratory), universities (including MIT and University of Massachusetts), NASA, and NOAA. Students involved in the projects bring boundless energy that can be effectively brought to bear under the guidance of seasoned experts and faculty.Credit: MIT Lincoln Laboratory