NASA and Rocket Lab are now targeting no earlier than 11:30 p.m. EDT Thursday, May 25, (3:30 p.m. NZST Friday, May 26th) for the launch of the agency’s TROPICS (Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats) mission, from Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand.
Due to strong upper-level winds present throughout the count and expected to remain at the launch’s targeted lift-off time, Rocket Lab’s launch director called a scrub before fueling the Electron rocket.
This final TROPICS launch will place a pair of CubeSats in low Earth orbit to join another pair of TROPICS satellites launched earlier this month. Together the four satellites will orbit in two equally spaced orbital planes, which will distribute them for optimal coverage over the tropics. The orbiting TROPICS constellation of satellites will study the formation and development of tropical cyclones, known as hurricanes in the Atlantic and typhoons in the West Pacific, making observations of temperature, precipitation, water vapor, and cloud ice more often than what is possible with current weather satellites.
The constellation, which is part of NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder Program, requires launch to 550 kilometers altitude and inclination of about 30 degrees. Each pair of CubeSats must be launched to two specific orbital planes that are equally spaced 180 degrees opposite to maximize the temporal resolution. These unique orbits over Earth’s tropics allow the satellites to travel over any given storm about once an hour compared with current weather tracking satellites that have a timing of about once every six hours. This high revisit rate aims to help scientists better understand the processes that effect these high-impact storms, ultimately leading to improved modelling and prediction to help protect lives and livelihoods. All four TROPICS satellites need to be deployed into their operational orbit within a 60-day period, a mission requirement made possible with small dedicated launch. With the first batch of TROPICS CubeSats now in orbit, the second launch, called ‘Coming to a Storm Near You,’ is expected to launch on another Electron rocket in approximately two weeks from Launch Complex 1.
“The TROPICS constellation has the real potential to save lives by providing more timely data about storm intensity and providing advance warning to those in storm paths, so it’s an immense privilege to have deployed these spacecraft to their precise orbits before the upcoming storm season,” said Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck. “We’re grateful to the NASA team for entrusting us with such a critical mission and we look forward to completing the constellation with the second Electron launch in the coming days.”