CYGNSS a Team Effort

Technicians with Orbital ATK prepare one of the CYGNSS microsatellites for installation on the deployment module at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in October 2016.
Technicians with Orbital ATK prepare one of the CYGNSS microsatellites for installation on the deployment module at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in October 2016. Photo credit: NASA/Rod Speed

Teams from a variety of organizations within NASA, academia and industry are responsible for bringing the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System mission to fruition.

The Space Physics Research Laboratory at the University of Michigan College of Engineering in Ann Arbor leads overall mission execution in partnership with the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. The Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering Department at the University of Michigan leads the science investigation, and the Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate oversees the mission.

NASA’s Launch Services Program is responsible for spacecraft to launch vehicle integration and launch management, and Orbital ATK of Dulles, Virginia, is providing the Pegasus XL launch service to NASA.

Climb/Cruise Checklist

The flight crew aboard the Stargazer is working through its climb/cruise checklist as it sets off toward the proper location and altitude to deploy the Pegasus XL rocket for launch at 8:35 a.m.

F-18 Chase Plane Takes Off

Chase Plane 2The NASA F-18 chase plane has taken off from the Skid Strip at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

It will be followed a few minutes from now by the Stargazer aircraft carrying the Pegasus XL rocket and, sealed inside the rocket’s payload fairing, the CYGNSS payload.

Chase Plane Moving to Runway

The NASA F-18 clase plane that will provide visual contact and video of the L-1011 and Pegasus XL rocket once they’re airborne is taxiing into position for takeoff from the Skid Strip runway at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Air-Launched Pegasus XL a Unique Launch System

Launch of a Pegasus XL rocket
Launch of a Pegasus XL rocket. Credit: NASA

The three-stage, all-solid-fueled Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rocket is the only airborne, commercially developed launch vehicle. At 55 feet long, if stood on its end it would be about half the height of the Statue of Liberty. Its 39,000-foot deployment altitude is 10,000 feet higher than Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth – and the aircraft that carries it to that altitude is Orbital ATK’s L-1011 aircraft, “Stargazer.”

NASA’s Launch Services Program, or LSP, is based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The program selects the best launcher for each mission’s payload, and selected the Pegasus XL vehicle for the eight microsatellites comprising the CYGNSS spacecraft.

CYGNSS will be the 15th NASA mission LSP has launched aboard the Pegasus vehicle.