Article courtesy of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab

A new weather satellite no bigger than a cereal box got an inside look at Hurricane Florence, in the first test of technology that could be the future of storm monitoring. The satellite observed Hurricane Florence on Tuesday, September 11, just hours after its instrument was turned on. Named for the storms it tracks, TEMPEST-D (Temporal Experiment for Storms and Tropical Systems Demonstration) is a mission to demonstrate a new miniature weather instrument that could make it possible to use fleets of small satellites to provide more frequent updates on developing storms.

TEMPEST-D, a CubeSat deployed into low-Earth orbit from the International Space Station in July, carries a state-of-the-art miniaturized microwave radiometer, an instrument that sees through the thick clouds to reveal the hidden interior of storms, just like a security scanner can see inside luggage at the airport. The second, brightly colored image taken by TEMPEST-D shows Florence over the Atlantic Ocean, revealing the eye of the storm surrounded by towering intense rain bands.  The green areas highlight the extent of the rain being produced by the storm, with the most intense rain denoted by the yellow and red colors.  The first image of the hurricane was taken by the GOES weather satellite that shows the familiar cyclone-shaped clouds of the storm, but doesn’t reveal what’s inside.

This level of detail is similar to what existing weather satellites produce, but at a fraction of the size and cost.  In the future, many TEMPEST satellites could be built for the same cost as a single, large satellite. A flock of TEMPEST satellites flying together could provide updates on storms within minutes as opposed to hours.

“TEMPEST-D paves the way for future missions where we can afford to fly many of these miniaturized weather satellites in constellations. Such a deployment will enable us to watch storms as they grow,” said Professor Steven Reising, TEMPEST-D Principal Investigator at Colorado State University.

TEMPEST-D’s mission is to test new technology that will be used to gather more weather data to help researchers better understand storms.  “We were challenged to fit this instrument in such a small satellite without compromising data quality and were delighted to see it work right out of the box,” said Dr. Sharmila Padmanabhan who led the instrument development at JPL.

TEMPEST-D is a technology demonstration mission led by Colorado State University (CSU) and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, in partnership with Blue Canyon Technologies (BCT) and NASA’s Near Earth Network ground station operated by Wallops Flight Facility. The mission is sponsored by the NASA’s Earth Ventures program and managed by the Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO). The radiometer instrument was built by JPL and employs high-frequency microwave amplifier technology developed by Northrop Grumman Corp.

 

More information about TEMPEST-D is available at the following site:

https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/cubesat/missions/tempest-d.php