Launch day has arrived for NASA’s commercial partner Astra. A pair of small satellites wait atop Astra’s Rocket 3 for liftoff from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. This mission will send two-shoebox sized CubeSats to low-Earth orbit. A two-hour launch window opens at noon EDT.
This is the first of three planned launches for NASA’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) mission. Together the three launches will attempt to place six satellites in three different orbital planes to study the formation and development of tropical cyclones, making observations more often than what is possible with current weather satellites. The six TROPICS satellites will join the TROPICS Pathfinder satellite, which is already in orbit.
The six TROPICS satellites will maximize their time over the part of the Earth where tropical cyclones form and will work in concert to improve observations of tropical cyclones. The spread of the satellites means that a satellite should pass over any spot in an area stretching from the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States to the southern coast of Australia about once an hour. TROPICS will provide data on temperature, precipitation, water vapor, and cloud ice by measuring microwave frequencies, providing insight into storm formation and intensification. This new data, coupled with information collected from other weather satellites, will increase understanding of tropical cyclones and improve forecasting models.
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The small satellites were selected through NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, which provides low-cost access to space for U.S. educational institutions, NASA centers, and others to develop and demonstrate novel technologies in space and to inspire and grow the next generation of scientists, engineers, and technologists.
The CubeSats were developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; The Weiss School in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida; NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California; Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida; and the University of South Alabama in Mobile. The CubeSats will be deployed from the space station.
NASA has selected over 200 CubeSat missions from more than 100 unique organizations representing 42 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico through the CubeSat Launch Initiative since 2010. To date, 134 CubeSat missions have launched into space through ELaNa rideshare opportunities.
NASA has selected eight small research satellites from seven states to fly as either auxiliary payloads or deployments from the International Space Station (ISS). These missions are currently planned to launch in the 2023-2026 timeframe. The selected CubeSats were proposed by educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and NASA centers in response to NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) call for proposals issued on August 9, 2021.
The organizations and the CubeSats chosen during this selection round are:
Arizona State University – Star-Planet Activity Research CubeSat (SPARCS)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – Virtual Super-Resolution Optics with Reconfigurable Swarms (VISORS)
NASA Langley Research Center – ARCSTONE
California Polytechnic State University – Additively Manufactured Deployable Radiator with Oscillating Heat Pipes (AMDROHPSat)
Olin College – Space Weather Atmospheric Reconfigurable Multiscale Experiment (SWARM-EX)
University of New Hampshire – 3U3-A
Utah State University – Active Cooling for Multispectral Earth Sensors (ACMES)
Arizona State University – Deployable Optical Receiver Aperture (DORA)