NASA has been forced to cancel the launch of its Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System due to a faulty hydraulic pump.

The mission was supposed to put in orbit eight satellites aboard the Pegasus XL rocket to study hurricanes and predict their intensity, but the rocket was not able to release itself from the aircraft during the scheduled procedure. The crew tried to solve the problem during launch, labeled as “valiant troubleshooting” by NASA, but efforts diverted to a second launch attempt on Tuesday.

NASA Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System.
NASA Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System. Image credit: NASA.

CYGNSS mission briefing

The L-1011 Stargazer aircraft will be resuming launch procedures from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on top of the Pegasus XL rocket, both built and designed by Orbital ATK. The plan is for Pegasus XL to launch the Stargazer upward to later detach itself at an altitude of 40,000 feet, as it rises over the Atlantic Ocean.

Pegasus XL will keep its momentum for five seconds until it activates its rockets to put itself in orbit. There the spaceship will launch its eight satellites comprising the CYGNSS, which will serve to analyze how hurricanes and cyclones are formed. Current technology allows weather scientists to understand how hurricanes move and how long they take to arrive at a specific destination, but currently there is not a sufficient input of data that reveals how intense a storm will be before it gets formed.

The $157 million CYGNSS mission will use GPS satellites to measure wind speed in the tropics, which is where hurricanes are born. The main objective is to survey the Earth’s surface winds, which allows scientists to understand how hurricanes grow and become destructive engines of nature. The satellites will reside at an altitude of 316 miles above sea level and will orbit at an inclination of 35 degrees.

CYGNSS investigators revealed that hurricane forecasts have improved, although intensity measurements have remained the same for several years without much progress. Chris Ruf, CYGNSS director, affirms that Earth’s surface serves to bounce back GPS signals, just like the moon becomes reflected on oceanic calm waters. When the wind stirs up radio signals, the reflection of the moon becomes blurry, and the same occurs with radio signals. The signals will reach CYGNSS satellites every seven hours, allowing NASA to have accurate measurements several times per day.

Existing weather satellites cannot measure wind speed accurately because they are not specifically designed for such purpose. For example, the Tropical Rainfall Measurement radar was designed to analyze rain and not the wind; in contrast, CYGNSS is designed to look through rain and focus on wind currents.

An alternative would be to fly airplanes into the storm itself, but this is particularly dangerous, costly, and multiple flights must be performed in order to obtain accurate measurements over a prolonged period of time.

Chris Ruf noted that, although CYGNSS will result in a vast improvement for hurricane measurements, airplanes will remain as the better alternative. CYGNSS is expected to serve as a complement for any measurement that could be performed directly from Earth.

Source: NASA