The NASA Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System SmallSat Constellation

Posted on by Stephen Gee

The NASA Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) mission consists of a constellation of eight microsatellites launched on 15 December 2016 into a common circular orbit at ~525 km altitude and 35 deg inclination. Each observatory carries a four channel bistatic radar receiver to measure GPS signals scattered by the Earth surface. Over ocean, near-surface wind speed, air-sea latent and sensible heat flux, and ocean microplastic concentration are derived from the measurements. Over land, near-surface soil moisture and inland water bodies extent are derived. The measurements penetrate through all levels of precipitation and most vegetation due to the 19 cm wavelength of GPS L1 signals. The sampling produced by the constellation makes possible the reliable detection of short time scale weather events such as flood inundation dynamics immediately after a tropical cyclone landfall and rapid soil moisture dry down immediately after major precipitation events. The sun-asynchronous nature of the CYGNSS orbit also supports full sampling of the diurnal cycle of hydrological dynamics within a short period of time. Summaries are presented of engineering and science highlights of the CYGNSS mission, with particular emphasis on those aspects most directly enabled by the use of a constellation of SmallSats.

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