How NASA Tracks Hurricanes – And How That’s About To Get Much Better


Multiple passive microwave instruments have been launched into space, moving in high-inclination or polar orbits to cover large areas of the planet. Such movement trajectory takes these satellites much longer to visit the same region, which is not an ideal solution if the region experiences cyclone-like events often, and up-to-date information about growth and movement is required. So far, the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission jointly run by NASA and JAXA has relied on a constellation of satellites scattered across overlapping orbits.

These existing satellites have helped refine the sampling frequency of cyclones, but the drawback here is that each satellite has its own unique sensor hardware that takes all the readings at a different channel frequency. That means scientists have to first calibrate and then correct the data relayed by these satellites before all of it is combined for analysis. This is where the TROPICS constellation comes to the rescue and eliminates the hassle.

The TROPICS constellation comprises satellites fitted with identical sensors for temperature, precipitation, and humidity monitoring. Plus, the unique inclined orbital trajectory allows these satellites to deliver an average revisit time between 30 and 60 minutes over the same region. 

That means the data they provide is as fresh as it gets, allowing higher precision in studying the evolution of cyclones. The core idea is that multiple satellites spread across orbits will offer an opportunity to collect data more frequently around the globe, improving disaster monitoring and weather forecasting.

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