Hurricane-watching microsatellites go in orbit

Rocket deployment
A photo taken from a NASA F-18 chase plane shows Orbital ATK’s L-1011 Stargazer jet deploying a Pegasus XL rocket to launch eight CYGNSS satellites. (NASA Photo / Lori Losey)

After several days of delays, a squadron of eight microsatellites was sent into orbit by a rocket launched from a high-flying airplane. Their mission? To study the winds that power the heart of a hurricane.

The launch was originally scheduled for Dec. 12, and then for Dec. 14. Each time, technical glitches forced a postponement. But today, it was all systems go as Orbital ATK’s Lockheed L-1011 Stargazer jet took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Fliroda.

An hour after takeoff, the airplane released a three-stage Pegasus rocket from an altitude of 39,000 feet. The Pegasus fired up its rocket engines and deployed the eight suitcase-sized satellites into low Earth orbit.

“The deployments looked great,” said Southwest Research Institute’s John Scherrer, a project manager for the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, or CYGNSS. “Right on time.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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