The COSMIC radio-sounding satellites are ageing but may set the stage for a commercial system.


Microsatellites aim to fill weather-data gap

Commercial network would use radio-sounding system.

Eric Hand
28 November 2012

Some orbiting satellites look up at the stars. Most point down towards Earth. But the satellites of the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC) look sideways, across the curving horizon. There, dozens of satellites that are part of the Global Positioning System (GPS) pop in and out of view at the edge of the planet. By tracking their radio signals, COSMIC can provide atmospheric data that enhance weather forecasts and climate models.

But the fleet, launched six years ago at a cost of US$100 million, is nearing the end of its life, with one satellite of the original six already defunct. At a three-day workshop last month at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, researchers hailed the US–Taiwanese COSMIC as a pioneer and discussed plans for a commercial successor: a network of 24 micro­satellites dubbed the Community Initiative for Cellular Earth Remote Observation (CICERO). Researchers say that the programme could help to address a gap in atmospheric data as the United States struggles to meet a 2016 launch date for the first spacecraft in its expensive Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). The radio-sounding technique that both COSMIC and CICERO use is a “disruptive technology”, says Rick Anthes, a COSMIC scientist and former president of UCAR. “The impact is huge — especially the impact for the cost.”

Read more: Microsatellites aim to fill weather-data gap : Nature News & Comment

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