On December 15, a three-stage Pegasus XL launch vehicle was launched from an ATK L-1011 Stargazer aircraft at an altitude of 11, 900 meters, which injected into orbit a group of eight CYGNSS microsatellites designed to monitor hurricanes.
The third stage with satellites successfully separated from the launch vehicle in the 13th minute of the flight. The satellites were put into orbit in pairs with an interval of 30 seconds.
This was the 43rd CYGNSS launch with a Pegasus rocket since April 1990. During this time, 94 satellites were launched into orbit.
Air launch is beneficial in several ways. First, it can be carried out at any geographic point on the Earth. Secondly, starting from an altitude of 12, 000 meters allows you to increase the payload and reduce operating costs. Essentially, thin air, combined with aircraft speed and altitude, replaces the first stage on a normal launch.
This mission of eight CYGNSS was developed by specialists from the University of Michigan with the aim of looking literally into the "heart" of hurricanes using direct and reflected GPS signals, in order to find out the reason for their rapid increase.
NASA hopes to receive the first scientific data as early as next week, that is, 1-2 months before the introduction of the entire online system before the start of the hurricane season.