Tiny weather satellite will boost storm forecasts


NASA is launching a shoebox-sized satellite into Earth orbit that could help improve weather forecasting.

The MiRaTA (Microwave Radiometer Technology Acceleration) cubesat is scheduled to launch into space on Tuesday, November 14 alongside another weather satellite called Joint Polar Satellite System-1 (JPSS-1) and four other cubesats. MiRaTA is designed to study cloud temperature, water vapor and ice, which will be useful in predicting the weather and tracking storms, according to a NASA statement. You can watch the launch live at 4:47 a.m. EST (09:47 GMT) here on Space.comcourtesy of NASA.

Most weather satellites are very large, but the MiRaTA offers a much smaller and more compact design. The satellite is equipped with two ground sensors, including a microwave radiometer and a GPS radio occultation receiver (GPSRO).

The MiRaTA (Microwave Radiometer Technology Acceleration) satellite is the size of a shoebox, but it will be able to take powerful atmospheric science measurements from orbit after launch. (Image credit: MIT Lincoln Laboratory)

A microwave radiometer measures radio frequency signals related to thermal radiation emitted by atmospheric gases, such as molecular oxygen and water vapor, and it can also detect particles such as cloud ice. Most weather satellites are already equipped with this technology; however, shrinking the instrument to fit a CubeSat meant that NASA also had to build a calibration target small enough to fit on the miniature satellite.

“You don’t have room for the bulky calibration targets that you would normally use on larger satellites,” said Kerri Cahoy, principal investigator for MiRaTA and associate professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute. of Technology. declaration. “Microwave radiometer calibration targets on larger satellites may be the size of a toaster, but for cubesats they should be the size of a deck of cards.”

This is where the GPSRO comes in. The technology uses radio signals from other GPS satellites higher in Earth’s orbit to calibrate the cubesat’s radiometers. This is important for collecting data that can be used for accurate weather and climate models, officials said in the statement.

“In physics class, you learn that a pencil submerged in water looks like it’s snapped in half because light bends differently in water than it does in air,” Cahoy said in the communicated. “Radio waves are like light in that they refract as they pass through changing densities of air, and we can use the magnitude of the refraction to calculate the temperature of the surrounding atmosphere with near precision. perfect and use it to calibrate a radiometer.”

If all goes as planned, the MiRaTA cubesat will be operational three weeks after launch and will begin transmitting validation data within three months. The team will analyze the data to determine the success of the satellite technology.

“Our goal is for our radiometers to perform as well as those on current weather satellites and be able to provide the kind of data that helps agencies and people on the path to a natural disaster prepare early and wisely,” he said. said Cahoy.

These miniature satellites could also significantly improve weather forecasts, the researchers said. Ideally, MiRaTA would be used to take snapshots of Earth’s atmosphere and weather every 15 minutes, allowing scientists to track storms in real time.

“This is a very exciting mission as it will be the first in-orbit demonstration of an all-weather, three-frequency radiometer cubesat using GPS-RO-based atmospheric calibration,” said Charles Norton, associate. program at NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office. (ESTO) and the project manager for MiRaTA, said in the release. “It is a true testament to the creativity and innovation of the teams involved as they advance measurement technologies for future small satellite constellation missions.”

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