The blast off from its Launch Complex 1 at Mahia, New Zealand — which you can watch in full here – will be followed within weeks by the launch of two more satellites to complete the constellation.
“Each pair of CubeSats must be launched to two specific orbital planes that are equally spaced 180 degrees opposite to maximise the temporal resolution,” said Rocket Lab in a statement released Monday afternoon.
“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.”
The four TROPICS satellites – Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats – need to be deployed into their operation orbit within 60 days. Something made possible with a small, dedicated launch.
Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck said the constellation has the “real potential to save lives” by providing more timely data about storm intensity and providing an advance warning to those in storm paths.
“It’s an immense privilege to have deployed these spacecraft to their precise orbits before the upcoming storm season,” he said.
“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.”
Monday’s ‘Rocket Like a Hurricane’ mission was Rocket Lab’s fourth of 2023 and the 36th with its reusable orbital-class small rocket Electron. It brings the total number of satellites launched into orbit by Rocket Lab to 161 in total.
William Blackwell, TROPICS' principal investigator at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, hailed the breakthrough that could be provided by the four satellites.
“We’ll be getting data we’ve never had before, which is this ability to look in the microwave wavelength region in the storms with hourly cadence to look at the storm as it forms and intensifies,” he said.
“We hope to improve our understanding of the basic processes that drive the storms and ultimately improve our ability to forecast the track and intensity.”
TROPICS was originally set to be a six-satellite constellation, but the first two failed to reach orbit when launched by rival firm Astra.
NASA selected Rocket Lab to continue the work in November 2022. NASA said that while having four, and not six, satellites would make a difference to its performance, it was still likely to be a significant improvement on current technology.
Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.
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