U.S.-Taiwanese Innovative Satellite Array To Launch April 14

Washington – A globe-spanning constellation of six satellites expected to improve weather forecasts, monitor climate change and enhance space weather research will head into orbit April 14.

A Minotaur rocket is scheduled to launch the array from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, according to an April 12 press release from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF).

The low-orbiting satellites will be the first to provide daily atmospheric data in real time over thousands of points on Earth for research and weather forecasting by measuring the bending of radio signals from the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) as the signals pass through Earth's atmosphere.

Called COSMIC, for Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate, in the United States and FORMOSAT-3 in Taiwan, the $100 million satellite network is the product of an agreement between the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States.

"Centers around the world will have access to this new information for both research and operational forecasting," said UCAR President Richard Anthes. "User-friendly versions of the data will enable those with less sophisticated systems to benefit as well," he adds.

Temperature and water vapor profiles derived from GPS data will help meteorologists observe, research and forecast hurricanes, typhoons and other storm patterns over the oceans and improve many areas of weather prediction.

COSMIC measurements in the ionosphere – part of the atmosphere 80 kilometers above the Earth where charged particles exist – are expected to improve analysis and forecasting of space weather, including geomagnetic storms that can interrupt sensitive satellite and communications systems and affect power grids on the ground.

Orbiting at an altitude of 800 kilometers, COSMIC satellites will take about 2,500 measurements every 24 hours in a nearly uniform distribution around the globe.

The system will provide new and independent data over vast stretches of the oceans where no weather balloon observations exist.

"This new information will have a tremendous impact on geosciences research and operational weather prediction,” said NSF program manager Jay Fein, “and will be an important contribution to the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, a program led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)."

Taiwan's National Science Council and National Space Organization provided more than $80 million for the system. NSF, lead agency for COSMIC science activities, and its partners provided the rest of the support.

Major partners include NASA, NOAA, the U.S. Air Force Space Test Program, the Office of Naval Research, and the Department of Defense Space and Missile Systems Center's Rocket Systems Launch Program of the U.S. Air Force.

COSMIC information, visuals and a fact sheet are available on the UCAR Web site.

The full text of the press release is available at the UCAR Web site.