solid rockets

10 People You Wish You Met from 100 Years of NASA’s Langley

Something happened 100 years ago that changed forever the way we fly. And then the way we explore space. And then how we study our home planet. That something was the establishment of what is now NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Founded just three months after America’s entry into World War I, Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory was established as the nation’s first civilian facility focused on aeronautical research. The goal was, simply, to “solve the fundamental problems of flight.”

From the beginning, Langley engineers devised technologies for safer, higher, farther and faster air travel. Top-tier talent was hired. State-of-the-art wind tunnels and supporting infrastructure was built. Unique solutions were found.

Langley researchers developed the wing shapes still used today in airplane design. Better propellers, engine cowlings, all-metal airplanes, new kinds of rotorcraft and helicopters, faster-than-sound flight - these were among Langley’s many groundbreaking aeronautical advances spanning its first decades.

By 1958, Langley’s governing organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA, would become NASA, and Langley’s accomplishments would soar from air into space.

Here are 10 people you wish you met from the storied history of Langley:

Robert R. “Bob” Gilruth (1913–2000) 

  • Considered the father of the U.S. manned space program.
  • He helped organize the Manned Spacecraft Center – now the Johnson Space Center – in Houston, Texas. 
  • Gilruth managed 25 crewed spaceflights, including Alan Shepard’s first Mercury flight in May 1961, the first lunar landing by Apollo 11 in July 1969, the dramatic rescue of Apollo 13 in 1970, and the Apollo 15 mission in July 1971.

Christopher C. “Chris” Kraft, Jr. (1924-) 

  • Created the concept and developed the organization, operational procedures and culture of NASA’s Mission Control.
  • Played a vital role in the success of the final Apollo missions, the first manned space station (Skylab), the first international space docking (Apollo-Soyuz Test Project), and the first space shuttle flights.

Maxime “Max” A. Faget (1921–2004) 

  • Devised many of the design concepts incorporated into all U.S.  manned spacecraft.
  • The author of papers and books that laid the engineering foundations for methods, procedures and approaches to spaceflight. 
  • An expert in safe atmospheric reentry, he developed the capsule design and operational plan for Project Mercury, and made major contributions to the Apollo Program’s basic command module configuration.

Caldwell Johnson (1919–2013) 

  • Worked for decades with Max Faget helping to design the earliest experimental spacecraft, addressing issues such as bodily restraint and mobility, personal hygiene, weight limits, and food and water supply. 
  • A key member of NASA’s spacecraft design team, Johnson established the basic layout and physical contours of America’s space capsules.

William H. “Hewitt” Phillips (1918–2009) 

  • Provided solutions to critical issues and problems associated with control of aircraft and spacecraft. 
  • Under his leadership, NASA Langley developed piloted astronaut simulators, ensuring the success of the Gemini and Apollo missions. Phillips personally conceived and successfully advocated for the 240-foot-high Langley Lunar Landing Facility used for moon-landing training, and later contributed to space shuttle development, Orion spacecraft splashdown capabilities and commercial crew programs.

Katherine Johnson (1918-) 

  • Was one of NASA Langley’s most notable “human computers,” calculating the trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s May 1961 mission, Freedom 7, America’s first human spaceflight. 
  • She verified the orbital equations controlling the capsule trajectory of John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission from blastoff to splashdown, calculations that would help to sync Project Apollo’s lunar lander with the moon-orbiting command and service module. 
  • Johnson also worked on the space shuttle and the Earth Resources Satellite, and authored or coauthored 26 research reports.

Dorothy Vaughan (1910–2008) 

  • Was both a respected mathematician and NASA’s first African-American manager, head of NASA Langley’s segregated West Area Computing Unit from 1949 until 1958. 
  • Once segregated facilities were abolished, she joined a racially and gender-integrated group on the frontier of electronic computing. 
  • Vaughan became an expert FORTRAN programmer, and contributed to the Scout Launch Vehicle Program.

William E. Stoney Jr. (1925-) 

  • Oversaw the development of early rockets, and was manager of a NASA Langley-based project that created the Scout solid-propellant rocket. 
  • One of the most successful boosters in NASA history, Scout and its payloads led to critical advancements in atmospheric and space science. 
  • Stoney became chief of advanced space vehicle concepts at NASA headquarters in Washington, headed the advanced spacecraft technology division at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, and was engineering director of the Apollo Program Office.

Israel Taback (1920–2008) 

  • Was chief engineer for NASA’s Lunar Orbiter program. Five Lunar Orbiters circled the moon, three taking photographs of potential Apollo landing sites and two mapping 99 percent of the lunar surface. 
  • Taback later became deputy project manager for the Mars Viking project. Seven years to the day of the first moon landing, on July 20, 1976, Viking 1 became NASA’s first Martian lander, touching down without incident in western Chryse Planitia in the planet’s northern equatorial region.

John C Houbolt (1919–2014) 

  • Forcefully advocated for the lunar-orbit-rendezvous concept that proved the vital link in the nation’s successful Apollo moon landing. 
  • In 1963, after the lunar-orbit-rendezvous technique was adopted, Houbolt left NASA for the private sector as an aeronautics, astronautics and advanced-technology consultant. 
  • He returned to Langley in 1976 to become its chief aeronautical scientist. During a decades-long career, Houbolt was the author of more than 120 technical publications.

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     Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, offers the unique sight of a complete Mercury spacecraft. Many of these spacecraft are available for viewing all over the United States, but this one is special because it did not fly.

     During the course of a Mercury flight, several parts of the spacecraft are jettisoned and not recovered, including the retro package. This piece of equipment is visible here in my photos as the striped metal object strapped to the bottom of the heat shield. This small cluster of solid rocket motors was responsible for the safe return of the astronaut from space, making just enough thrust to change the shape of the orbit so that it would meet the atmosphere and use aerobraking for a ballistic reentry.

     If this package had not fired properly, the astronaut would be faced with the dire situation of being stuck in orbit. Fortunately, this never happened in real life, but it was captured in the fanciful novel “Marooned” by Martin Cardin, in which a NASA astronaut was stranded on orbit after his retro rockets failed. When the book was released in 1964, it was so influential that it actually changed procedures for Mercury’s follow on program Project Gemini, adding more redundancy to the spacecraft’s reentry flight profile.

     Alan Shepard, the first American in space and later Apollo 14 moonwalker, didn’t fail to notice that there was a leftover spacecraft at the end of the Mercury program. He lobbied for a second Mercury flight in this ship, speaking personally to both NASA Administrator James Webb and President John Kennedy about this flight. He told them his idea of an “open ended” mission in which they would keep him in orbit indefinitely until there was a malfunction or consumables began to run out. Webb stated (and Kennedy agreed) that it was more important to shelve the Mercury spacecraft in order to jump start the more capable Gemini Program. Thus, we now have this whole Mercury on display for future generations to appreciate.


India sets new world record, launching 104 satellites at once.

Creating a new world record in the process, India successfully kicked off their 217 launch calendar February 14 by launching a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle with 104 satellites. The rocket launched at 10:58pm EST from the Satish Dhawan Space Center.

Lofted into a sun-synchronous orbit by the rocket’s fourth stage, 101 cubesats accompanied three larger satellites on the mission. CartoSat-2D is the fourth in a series of high-resolution Earth-imaging satellites domestically designed by India. Less than ten seconds after CartoSat-2D was deployed, the INA-1A and 1B satellites were released. These two satellites are technology demonstrators for a new, smaller satellite bus that India hopes can attract universities and small businesses for space-based payloads.

Of the 101 cubesats deployed, 88 belonged to the Planet company, which - when combined with 100 identical satellites already in polar orbit- will photograph the entire surface of the Earth every day. Eight other cubesats belonged to Spire Global, and will measure atmospheric conditions and global shipping traffic. The remaining five are scientific and communication technology demonstrators

ISRO - the Indian Space Research organization - released a stunning video of the PSLV launch, the first time footage from onboard rocket cameras have been released. Key events in the rocket’s ascent can be seen, including the jettisoning of its six strap-on solid rocket motors, separation of its second and third stages, and jettisoning of the payload fairing. 


Soaring through the skies! This view looks from the window of our F-18 support aircraft during a 2016 Orbital ATK air-launch of its Pegasus rocket. 

The CYGNSS mission, led by the University of Michigan, will use eight micro-satellite observatories to measure wind speeds over Earth’s oceans, increasing the ability of scientists to understand and predict hurricanes. 

CYGNSS launched at 8:37 a.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016 from our Kennedy Space Center in Florida. CYGNSS launched aboard an Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rocket, deployed from Orbital’s “Stargazer” L-1011 carrier aircraft.

Pegasus is a winged, three-stage solid propellant rocket that can launch a satellite into low Earth orbit. How does it work? Great question!

After takeoff, the aircraft (which looks like a commercial airplane..but with some special quirks) flies to about 39,000 feet over the ocean and releases the rocket. 

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See through Solid rocket motor being ignited

April 12, 1981 - Nine years following the initial development of the Space Transportation System, OV-102 Columbia launches Astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen on STS-1, the maiden flight of a program that would last 30 years and launch hundreds of Astronauts into low-earth orbit, deploy scientific instruments that have allowed us to see further into the universe than we’ve ever seen before, and build a home in space that continues to provide us important information about how humans live and work in micro-gravity.

STS-1 would launch from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A, and last two days, 6 hours and 20 minutes. Young and Crippen would orbit the Earth 37 times before landing the shuttle at Edwards Air Force Base on April 14th. STS-1 was also the first time Solid Rocket Boosters were used on a NASA spaceflight system for primary thrust.

Saturn V

The Saturn rocket series’ biggest brother, the culmination of America’s efforts during the Cold War Space Race against the Russians, and the paragon of human spaceflight achievement, The Apollo program’s primary tool was the mighty Saturn V, the pride of American space exploration, and NASA’s poster child. Designed by Wehrner von Braun, the massive rocket took 24 astronauts beyond Earth’s orbit, 12 of which walked on the Moon.

The Saturn V dwarfed every previous rocket fielded by America in the Space Race, remaining to this day the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever brought to operational status and still holds records for the heaviest payload launched and largest payload capacity. On the pad, she stood 363 feet (111m) tall, taller than the Statue of Liberty by 58 feet, with a diameter of 33 feet (10m), and weighed 6.5 million pounds fully fueled. Her designed payload capacity was rated at 261,000 pounds (118,000 kg) to Low Earth Orbit and 90,000 pounds (41,000 kg) to the Moon, but in later missions was able to carry about 310,000 pounds (140,000 kg) to LEO and sent up to 107,100 lb (48,600 kg) worth of spacecraft to the Moon.

The total launch vehicle was a 3 stage vehicle: the S-IC first stage, S-II second stage and the S-IVB third stage. The first stage used RP-1 for fuel, while the second and third stages used liquid hydrogen (LH2), with all three using liquid oxygen (LOX) for oxidizer.

Originally posted by spaceplasma

First Stage

The first stage of the Saturn V is the lower section of the rocket, producing the most thrust in order to get the vehicle off the pad and up to altitude for the second stage.

The Rocketdyne F-1 engine used to propel the rocket was designed for the U.S. Air Force by Rocketdyne for use on ICBM’s, but was dropped and picked up by NASA for use on their rockets. This engine still is the most powerful single combustion chamber engine ever produced, producing 1,522,000 lbf (6,770 kN) at sea level and 1,746,000 lbf (7,770 kN) in a vacuum. The S-IC has five F-1 engines. Total thrust on the pad, once fully throttled, was well over 7,600,000 lbf, consuming the RP-1 fuel and LOX oxidizer at a jaw-dropping 13 metric tonnes per second.

The launch sequence for the first stage begins at approx. T-minus 8.9 seconds, when the five F-1 engines are ignited to achieve full throttle on t-minus 0.  The center engine ignited first, followed by opposing outboard pairs at 300-millisecond intervals to reduce the structural loads on the rocket. When thrust had been confirmed by the onboard computers, the rocket was “soft-released” in two stages: first, the hold-down arms released the rocket, and second, as the rocket began to accelerate upwards, it was slowed by tapered metal pins pulled through dies for half a second.

It took about 12 seconds for the rocket to clear the tower. During this time, it yawed 1.25 degrees away from the tower to ensure adequate clearance despite adverse winds. (This yaw, although small, can be seen in launch photos taken from the east or west.) At an altitude of 430 feet (130 m) the rocket rolled to the correct flight azimuth and then gradually pitched down until 38 seconds after second stage ignition. This pitch program was set according to the prevailing winds during the launch month. The four outboard engines also tilted toward the outside so that in the event of a premature outboard engine shutdown the remaining engines would thrust through the rocket’s center of gravity. At this point in the launch, forces exerted on the astronauts is about 1.25 g.

At about T+ 1 minute, the rocket has gone supersonic, at which point, shock collars form around the rocket’s second stage separator. At this point, the vehicle is between 3 and 4 nautical miles in altitude.

Originally posted by sagansense

As the rocket ascends into thinner atmosphere and continues to burn fuel, the rocket becomes lighter, and the engine efficiency increases, accelerating the rocket at a tremendous rate.  At about 80 seconds, the rocket experienced maximum dynamic pressure. Once maximum efficiency of the F-1 engines is achieved, the total thrust peaks at around 9,000,000 lbf. At T+ 135 seconds, astronaut strain has increased to a constant 4 g’s.

At around T+ 168 seconds, the engines cut off as all fuel in the first stage is expended. At this point in flight, the rocket is  at an altitude of about 36 nautical miles (67 km), was downrange about 50 nautical miles (93 km), and was moving about 6,164 miles per hour (2,756 m/s). The first stage separates at a little less than 1 second following engine cutoff to allow for engine trail-off.  Eight small solid fuel separation motors backs the S-IC from the rest of the vehicle, and the first stage continues ballistically to an altitude of about 59 nautical miles (109 km) and then falls in the Atlantic Ocean about 300 nautical miles (560 km) downrange. Contrary to the common misconception, the S-IC stage never leaves Earth’s atmosphere, making it, technically, an aircraft.

Second Stage

The second stage is responsible with propelling the vehicle to orbital altitude and velocity. Already up to speed and altitude, the second stage doesn’t require as much Delta-V to achieve it’s operation.

For the first two unmanned launches, eight solid-fuel ullage motors ignited for four seconds to give positive acceleration to the S-II stage, followed by start of the five Rocketdyne J-2 engines. For the first seven manned Apollo missions only four ullage motors were used on the S-II, and they were eliminated completely for the final four launches. 

About 30 seconds after first stage separation, the interstage ring dropped from the second stage. This was done with an inertially fixed attitude so that the interstage, only 1 meter from the outboard J-2 engines, would fall cleanly without contacting them. Shortly after interstage separation the Launch Escape System was also jettisoned.

About 38 seconds after the second stage ignition the Saturn V switched from a preprogrammed trajectory to a “closed loop” or Iterative Guidance Mode. The Instrument Unit now computed in real time the most fuel-efficient trajectory toward its target orbit. If the Instrument Unit failed, the crew could switch control of the Saturn to the Command Module’s computer, take manual control, or abort the flight.

About 90 seconds before the second stage cutoff, the center engine shut down to reduce longitudinal pogo oscillations (a forward/backward oscillation caused by the unstable combustion of propellant). At around this time, the LOX flow rate decreases, changing the mix ratio of the two propellants, ensuring that there would be as little propellant as possible left in the tanks at the end of second stage flight. This was done at a predetermined Delta-V.

 Five level sensors in the bottom of each S-II propellant tank are armed during S-II flight, allowing any two to trigger S-II cutoff and staging when they were uncovered. One second after the second stage cut off it separates and several seconds later the third stage ignited. Solid fuel retro-rockets mounted on the interstage at the top of the S-II fires to back it away from the S-IVB. The S-II impacts about 2,300 nautical miles (4,200 km) from the launch site.

The S-II would burn for 6 minutes to propel the vehicle to 109 miles (175km) and 15,647 mph, close to orbital velocity.

Third Stage

Now in space, the third stage, the S-IVB’s sole purpose is to prepare and push the Command, Service, and Lunar Modules to the Moon via TLI. 

Unlike the two-plane separation of the S-IC and S-II, the S-II and S-IVB stages separated with a single step. Although it was constructed as part of the third stage, the interstage remained attached to the second stage.

During Apollo 11, a typical lunar mission, the third stage burned for about 2.5 minutes until first cutoff at 11 minutes 40 seconds. At this point it was 1,430 nautical miles (2,650 km)  downrange and in a parking orbit at an altitude of 103.2 nautical miles (191.1 km)  and velocity of 17,432 mph (7,793 m/s). The third stage remained attached to the spacecraft while it orbited the Earth one and a half times while astronauts and mission controllers prepared for translunar injection.

This parking orbit is quite low, and would eventually succumb to aerodynamic drag if maintained, but on lunar missions, this can be gotten away with because the vehicle is not intended to stay in said orbit for long. The S-IVB also continued to thrust at a low level by venting gaseous hydrogen, to keep propellants settled in their tanks and prevent gaseous cavities from forming in propellant feed lines. This venting also maintained safe pressures as liquid hydrogen boiled off in the fuel tank. This venting thrust easily exceeded aerodynamic drag.

On Apollo 11, TLI came at 2 hours and 44 minutes after launch. The S-IVB burned for almost six minutes giving the spacecraft a velocity close to the Earth’s escape velocity of 25,053 mph (11,200 m/s). This gave an energy-efficient transfer to lunar orbit, with the Moon helping to capture the spacecraft with a minimum of CSM fuel consumption.

After the TLI, the Saturn V has fullfilled its purpose of getting the Apollo crew and modules on their way to the Moon. At around 40 minutes after TLI, the Command Service module (the conjoined Command module and Service Module) separate from the LM adapter, turns 180 degrees, and docks with the exposed Lunar Module. After 50 minutes, the 3 modules separate from the spent S-IVC, in a process known as Transposition, docking and extraction

Of course, if the S-IVC were to remain on the same course (in other words, if they leave it right there unattended), due to the physics of zero gravity environments, the third stage would present a collision hazard for the Apollo modules. To prevent this, its remaining propellants were vented and the auxiliary propulsion system fired to move it away. Before Apollo 13, the S-IVB was directed to slingshot around the Moon into a solar orbit, but from 13 onward, the S-IVB was directed to actually impact the Moon. The reason for this was for existing probes to register the impacts on their seismic sensors, giving valuable data on the internals and structure of the Moon.

Launch Escape System

The Saturn V carries a frightening amount of potential energy (the Saturn V on the pad, if launch failed and the rocket ruptured and exploded, would have released an energy equivalent to 2 kilotons of TNT, a force shy of the smallest atomic weapons), which luckily was unleashed as planned without incident. However, this being NASA, precautions were made to save the crew in event of a catastrophic failure. 

The LES (Launch Escape System) has been around since the Mercury Program as a way to get the crew capsule away from a potential explosion on the pad or in early launch. The idea is that a small rocket would take the capsule far enough away from the rocket that parachutes could be deployed.

The LES included three wires that ran down the exterior of the launch vehicle. If the signals from any two of the wires were lost, the LES would activate automatically. Alternatively, the Commander could activate the system manually using one of two translation controller handles, which were switched to a special abort mode for launch. When activated, the LES would fire a solid fuel escape rocket, and open a canard system to direct the Command Module away from, and off the path of, a launch vehicle in trouble. The LES would then jettison and the Command Module would land with its parachute recovery system.

If the emergency happened on the launch pad, the LES would lift the Command Module to a sufficient height to allow the recovery parachutes to deploy safely before coming in contact with the ground.

An interesting factoid is how much power the LES possesses; in fact, the LES rocket produces more thrust (147,000 pounds-force (650 kN) sea level thrust) than the Mercury-Redstone rocket (78,000 pounds-force (350 kN)) used to launch Freedom-7 during the Mercury program. 


Originally posted by pappubahry

After budget cuts necessitated mission cancellations and the end of the Apollo program, NASA still had at least one Saturn V rocket intended for Apollo 18/19. Luckily, in 1965, the Apollo Applications Program was established to find a use for the Saturn V rocket following the Apollo program. Much of the research conducted in this program revolved around sending up a space station. This station (now known as Skylab) would be built on the ground from a surplus Saturn IB second stage and launched on the first two live stages of a Saturn V. 

The only significant changes to the Saturn V from the Apollo configurations involved some modification to the S-II to act as the terminal stage for inserting the Skylab payload into Earth orbit, and to vent excess propellant after engine cutoff so the spent stage would not rupture in orbit. The S-II remained in orbit for almost two years, and made an uncontrolled re-entry on January 11, 1975. 

This would be NASA’s only Saturn V launch not associated with the Apollo program, and unfortunately, would prove to be the Saturn V’s last one. There were other concepts for Saturn V’s as launch vehicles, including a space shuttle design, but none of these ever came to fruition. 


From 1964 until 1973, a total of $6.417 billion ($41.4 billion in 2016) was appropriated for the Saturn V, with the maximum being in 1966 with $1.2 billion ($8.75 billion in 2016). 

Displays and Survivors

There are several displays of Saturn V rockets around the United States, including a few test rockets and unused ones intended for flight. The list below details what and where they are.

  • Two at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville:

SA-500D is on horizontal display made up of S-IC-D, S-II-F/D and S-IVB-D. These were all test stages not meant for flight. This vehicle was displayed outdoors from 1969 to 2007, was restored, and is now displayed in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. The second display here is a vertical display (replica) built in 1999 located in an adjacent area.

  • One at the Johnson Space Center made up of first stage from SA-514, the second stage from SA-515 and the third stage from SA-513 (replaced for flight by the Skylab workshop). With stages arriving between 1977 and 1979, this was displayed in the open until its 2005 restoration when a structure was built around it for protection. This is the only display Saturn consisting entirely of stages intended to be launched.
  • One at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, made up of S-IC-T (test stage) and the second and third stages from SA-514. It was displayed outdoors for decades, then in 1996 was enclosed for protection from the elements in the Apollo/Saturn V Center.
  • The S-IC stage from SA-515 is on display at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Louisiana.
  • The S-IVB stage from SA-515 was converted for use as a backup for Skylab, and is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Source: Wikipedia

“This morning (May 1), SpaceX successfully landed its Falcon 9 rocket on solid ground again, after launching the vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The vehicle’s first stage — the 14-story core of the rocket that contains the main engines — touched down at the company’s landing pad called Landing Zone 1, located just off the coast of the Cape. It’s the fourth time SpaceX has landed one of its rockets on land, and the 10th time the company has successfully recovered a rocket post-launch.

Today’s rocket took off at 7:15AM ET, lofting a secret spy satellite dubbed NROL-76 for the National Reconnaissance Office. It’s the first mission that SpaceX has done for the US military, after receiving certification to launch satellites for the Air Force in 2015. Since this was a national security launch, not much is known about the purpose of today’s mission, or the satellite’s intended orbit.” theverge

Atlas V reconfigured for Starliner missions

Following up on more than six months of wind tunnel testing, Boeing and ULA management announced a slight reconfiguration of the Atlas V 421 rocket that will loft the Starliner spacecraft.

Atlas will be flying without a payload fairing on Starliner missions, which introduced unforeseen aerodynamic loads on the vehicle. To minimize these loads, which could potentially damage the spacecraft, engineers developed an aeroskirt which will be attached to the aft end of the Service Module.

This aeroskirt will deflect aerodynamic loads further aft from the spacecraft, increasing stability during the rocket’s ascent to orbit.

Starliner missions will be a unique configuration for the Atlas rocket, with no payload fairing, two AJ-60 Solid Rocket Motors, and the new aeroskirt. Starliner will also mark return of human spaceflight to the Atlas rocket, which earlier variants lofted NASA’s Mercury capsule into orbit in the early 1960s.

Boeing initially expected crewed flights to begin by the end of 2017, however recent statements from the company have indicated a slip into December 2018. This yearlong delay was caused by issues in the supply chain of the manufacturing process. Starliner initially was slated to fly Astronauts in early 2017.

P/c: ULA.

Eight Small Satellites Will Give Us a New Look Inside Hurricanes

The same GPS technology that helps people get where they’re going in a car will soon be used in space in an effort to improve hurricane forecasting. The technology is a key capability in a NASA mission called the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS).

The CYGNSS mission, led by the University of Michigan, will use eight micro-satellite observatories to measure wind speeds over Earth’s oceans, increasing the ability of scientists to understand and predict hurricanes. Each microsatellite observatory will make observations based on the signals from four GPS satellites.

The CYGNSS microsatellite observatories will only receive signals broadcast directly to them from GPS satellites already orbiting the Earth and the reflection of the same satellite’s signal reflected from the Earth’s surface. The CYGNSS satellites themselves will not broadcast.

The use of eight microsatellite observatories will decrease the revisit time as compared with current individual weather satellites. The spacecraft will be deployed separately around the planet, with successive satellites passing over the same region every 12 minutes.

This will be the first time that satellites can peer through heavy tropical rainfall into the middle of hurricanes and predict how intense they are before and during landfall.

As the CYGNSS and GPS constellations orbit around the Earth, the interaction of the two systems will result in a new image of wind speed over the entire tropics every few hours, compared to every few days for a single satellite.

Another advantage of CYGNSS is that its orbit is designed to measure only in the tropics…where hurricanes develop and are most often located. The focus on tropical activity means that the instruments will be able to gather much more useful data on weather systems exclusively found in the tropics. This data will ultimately be used to help forecasters and emergency managers make lifesaving decisions.


CYGNSS launched at 8:37 a.m. EST on Thursday, Dec. 15, from our Kennedy Space Center in Florida. CYGNSS launched aboard an Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rocket, deployed from Orbital’s “Stargazer” L-1011 carrier aircraft. 

Pegasus is a winged, three-stage solid propellant rocket that can launch a satellite into low Earth orbit. How does it work? Great question! 

After takeoff, the aircraft (which looks like a commercial airplane..but with some special quirks) flies to about 39,000 feet over the ocean and releases the rocket. 

After a five-second free fall in a horizontal position, the Pegasus first stage ignites. The aerodynamic lift, generated by the rocket’s triangle-shaped wing, delivers the payload into orbit in about 10 minutes. 

Pegasus is used to deploy small satellites weighing up to 1,000 pounds into low Earth orbit. 

And success! The eight CYGNSS satellites were successfully deployed into orbit! 

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