Archive for ‘Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS)’

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First Contact Made with CYGNSS Satellites on Orbit

December 16th, 2016 by Mary Morris

It’s Friday, and the excitement of launch day yesterday still hasn’t worn off. Not only did we see CYGNSS get launched into space, we were also able to make first contact with them. I talked about the excitement of the launch itself yesterday, so today’s post will describe our experiences communicating with each of the eight satellites for the first time.

First, I want to remind you of what our spacecraft looked like, all bundled up and stacked on the deployment module:

All eight spacecraft, with their solar panel wings stowed, attached to the deployment module eventually contained in the Pegasus XL launch vehicle.

Once it reached the right altitude, the deployment module pushed pairs of satellites off in different directions. A little while after being deployed, the spacecraft solar power panel wings unfolded, and the spacecraft went into “sun point” mode, which is exactly what it sounds like: the spacecraft maneuvered to get their solar panels pointed directly towards the sun for maximum charging. This sequence of events is illustrated in this artist representation of the deployment sequence:

During deployment, the spacecraft are pushed off the deployment module to start their solo orbits. The solar panel wings unfurl after the satellite is deployed.

During deployment, the spacecraft are pushed off the deployment module to start their solo orbits. The solar panel wings unfurl after the satellite is deployed.

After launch, we needed these satellites to start charging their batteries as soon as possible, via the solar panels. Although we only need six working satellites to meet our science requirements, we’re always chasing perfection. At 11 AM EST, we all gathered in a conference room to take a look at the first engineering data coming down from the satellites.

We weren’t the only ones looking at the data, however. CYGNSS team members at Southwest Research Institute’s Mission Operations Center (MOC) in Boulder, CO are operating 24/7 to monitor engineering data we get from the satellites, as well as set up communications with the satellites via our ground stations in Hawaii, Chile, and Australia. At the MOC, they were sending commands and planning out the communication timeline, depending on the scenario we ran into.

What you might not remember is that initially after deployment, the satellites are still pretty close to each other while orbiting. This makes it challenging to talk to more than one or two satellites at a time when they are in our contact zones. We had a detailed plan that included a timeline for which satellites were going to be communicated with, when, and from which ground station. Contacting all eight satellites would take all day—a day that started at 2 o’clock in the morning for some of us!

The second exciting moment of the day was seeing the engineering data come down from the first satellite we contacted. The conference room was tense and dead silent at 11:40 AM EST, 2 minutes before first contact. I could hear everyone’s watches tick. When the first data showed up on the screen, we all breathed a sigh of relief. All the engineering data looked good! We relaxed a bit after that.

As the day went on, we contacted more and more satellites. While others exchanged horror stories they had experienced during previous missions during the first day, we tried to hope for the best. We were nervous and hesitant to declare success until we had thoroughly analyzed the limited data we had. It was fascinating to see how engineers could connect the dots between the temperatures of different parts of the spacecraft and things like the orientation and motion of the spacecraft with respect to the sun.

After successfully contacting all eight spacecraft by 3:30pm EST, we still weren’t completely sure whether one satellite had stabilized in sun point mode, but there wasn’t much that those in the conference room could do about it. We had to let the folks in the MOC work their magic. And work their magic they did! Overnight, all eight satellites were declared “green.” It sure was nice waking up to that news.

Over the coming weeks, the engineering commissioning phase will proceed. The folks at the MOC will be busy, even though it’s nearing the holidays. Prof. Ruf, currently at the MOC, sent me a few photos of all the action earlier today.

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The MOC team hard at work pouring over initial engineering data from the spacecraft on December 16, 2016. Photo credit: Chris Ruf

The MOC team hard at work pouring over initial engineering data from the spacecraft on December 16, 2016. Photo credit: Chris Ruf

According to Prof. Ruf, as of 5:00pm EST, things were still going smoothly. We all hope things continue to go well over the coming days and weeks before we go into science operations mode.

Thanks MOC team! Go CYGNSS!

CYGNSS Launch Day Thoughts

December 15th, 2016 by Mary Morris

I’m currently writing from Hangar AE, where it all happened. While we wait to make contact with all of the CYGNSS satellites after launch, I’m going to attempt some coherent thoughts about the past few days.

You may already have been following what’s been going on since my last post, but I’ll give a brief summary from someone who experienced it more directly.

We tried to launch on Monday, but had to return to base after two aborts. It was frustrating to see weather-related violations go green as we turned to dealing with aircraft anomalies. Eventually, we had to abort on Monday morning due to an anomaly with the hydraulic pump associated with the release mechanism on the L-1011 aircraft. Even though we showed up excited and ready to rock and roll, things just didn’t go our way on Monday. One thing I’ve learned is that there is an unlimited amount of things that can go wrong. It’s very rare for things to go according to plan. Even though we had to abort, the flight team wasn’t too disappointed—this is how things usually go. Things didn’t go entirely smoothly after that, either. We ended up finding an issue with flight parameter data on Tuesday, delaying  our next attempt until today, Thursday.

At 3 o’clock this morning I sat down at my console in the engineering backroom—the cheap, but more fun seats. Everyone “on console” has a headset that can be used to tune into many different communication channels. There is a whole channel dedicated for anomalies! We got there at 3 am because there is a whole binder full of steps to complete before we could launch. In addition to all of the audio we could tune into, there were many video feeds and displays of housekeeping data. Talk about information overload! It was easy to stay awake on a few hours of sleep with all of those stimuli in front of me. The adrenaline also helped.

While we watched the feeds, we would keep track of the housekeeping data to make sure everything looked okay. We also had a video feed from the chase plane to keep tabs on the rocket. I remember everyone being absolutely glued to their screens in nervous anticipation as we watched the video of the Pegasus XL rocket launch. In the engineering backroom, I was joined with other engineers who were very excited to see CYGNSS launch so beautifully. Here is a photo of everyone while we watched the rocket launch:
The engineering backroom crew was excited about the CYGNSS launch finally happening.

The engineering backroom crew was excited about the CYGNSS launch finally happening.

After all of the headaches earlier in the week, it was bizarre how well everything went today. In a flash, all of the CYGNSS satellites were orbiting and the L-1011 aircraft returned safely. Here is a photo of me, which hopefully portrays how excited I was, even with just a few hours of sleep.

Happy to see CYGNSS satellites up in orbit, while watching the feeds in our back control room.

Happy to see CYGNSS satellites up in orbit, while watching the feeds in our back control room.

We’re also so happy for Prof. Ruf and the entire team that made CYGNSS happen. Immediately after we launched, Prof. Ruf was bombarded by interviewers who wanted his take on the success of the mission.

While we had some post-launch down time, before we could communicate with the spacecraft, a beaming Prof. Ruf is interviewed in Hangar AE after the CYGNSS satellites were deployed.

A few hours after launch, we were able to start communicating with the spacecraft, but I’ll save a separate blog post for that topic since it was absolutely fascinating. Stay tuned and go CYGNSS!

 

CYGNSS Scheduled for Launch Tomorrow!

December 11th, 2016 by Mary Morris

I’ve just gotten back from the CYGNSS pre-launch reception. We were happy to get to this day, after countless hours of hard work. Now, we’re all just excited and nervous to see what happens when our baby CYGNSS satellites (Octuplets!) are born into the world. We can’t wait to see what science mysteries CYGNSS data will help us unlock.

If all goes according to plan, on Monday, Dec. 12, at 8:24 a.m. EST, the spacecraft will launch aboard Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL rocket. The rocket will deploy from Stargazer, Orbital ATK’s L-1011 carrier aircraft, over the Atlantic Ocean. You can watch coverage of the launch on NASA TV. The L-1011 will begin to taxi at 7:11 AM, taking off at 7:26 AM. The launch window opens at 8:19 AM. Prof. Ruf and I had fun hanging out near the L-1011 on Saturday, and I think this photo gives you some idea of the size of the rocket and aircraft.

Prof. Ruf and I chat with the L-1011 aircraft and Pegasus XL rocket in the background. Photo credit: Aaron Ridley

Prof. Ruf and I chat with the L-1011 aircraft and Pegasus XL rocket in the background. Photo credit: Aaron Ridley

Here is a photo of the chase plane, which will monitor the rocket visually, providing us with footage back in the control room:

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The plane that will fly near the L-1011, getting us a visual on the rocket as it flies out to the launch area. Photo credit: Aaron Ridley

I have an early morning and long day ahead of me, so I’m going to sign off now. Stay tuned and go CYGNSS!

You’re probably wondering why I’m down at NASA KSC so early before launch day. We’re not down here relaxing on the beach; the weekend before launch is packed with events. For example, just today, I participated in our CYGNSS Science Team meeting and two press events.

Earlier today, I kicked off our science team meeting by presenting the results from the last couple chapters of my dissertation.

Here I am, presenting my work at the CYGNSS science team meeting. Photo credit: EJ Olsen

Here I am, presenting my work at the CYGNSS science team meeting. Photo credit: EJ Olsen

The science team meeting is basically a mini symposium. It gives those involved with the project a chance to show their results, collaborate, and get feedback from others. An extended science team has grown from the original list of scientists and engineers that wrote the proposal. There are two main things that I have been pleasantly surprised by as I have worked on this project: 1) There are many institutions involved with CYGNSS, and 2) CYGNSS science applications are not limited to hurricane science.

Today, at the science team meeting, these two things were very apparent. NASA scientists are not the only ones interested in the success of CYGNSS. For example, a number of collaborators work at NOAA and the Naval Research Laboratory and these scientists are interested in figuring out how to use CYGNSS data to improve weather forecasts. Over the past few years, I have seen a number of presentations from CYGNSS team members from many different institutions that have shown that simulated CYGNSS data can positively impact the skill of weather models. It has been illuminating for me—someone who has never done any of this type of work—to see what types of experiments scientists choose to perform, and what questions they seek to answer. Many on the science team are excited about assimilating the on-orbit CYGNSS data for the first time during this upcoming year.

Another interesting aspect of CYGNSS that you may be surprised by is that CYGNSS data will have a wide range of applications outside of hurricane science. A number of scientists are looking into figuring out how to use CYGNSS data for other areas of interest: soil moisture, extratropical storms, and the Madden-Julian Oscillation are just a few out of many research topics that scientists are currently experimenting with now. The techniques used for CYGNSS are still relatively new, and it will be interesting to see how science applications develop after CYGNSS launches, with new on-orbit data.

There are always many things to learn at science team meetings. Here is a picture of the entire group that came down to Florida to participate in the science team meeting in person:

CYGNSS Science Team members get together to meet and discuss new findings, as well as prepare for the first year of science operations. Participants included: Nancy Baker, Charles Bussy-Virat, Matt Buchanan, Tim Butler, Kenny Carlsen, Juan Crespo, Maurizio di Bisceglie, Lilli Galdi, Jim Garrison, Joel Johnson, Stephen Katzberg, Mark Leidner, Xuanli Li, Sharan Majumdar, Darren McKague, Brian McNoldy, Mary Morris, Stephen Musko, Andrew O'Brien, Jeonghwan Park, Derek Posselt, Zhaoxia Pu, Aaron Ridley, Emily Riley, Chris Ruf, Kaitie Schoenfeldt, Bill Schreiner, Seubson Soisuvarn, Tianlin Wang, Xiaosu Xie, Valery Zavorotny (Some not pictured, as they participated remotely.) Photo credit: Aaron Ridley

CYGNSS Science Team members get together to meet and discuss new findings, as well as prepare for the first year of science operations. Participants included: Nancy Baker, Charles Bussy-Virat, Matt Buchanan, Tim Butler, Kenny Carlsen, Juan Crespo, Maurizio di Bisceglie, Lilli Galdi, Jim Garrison, Joel Johnson, Stephen Katzberg, Mark Leidner, Xuanli Li, Sharan Majumdar, Darren McKague, Brian McNoldy, Mary Morris, Stephen Musko, Andrew O’Brien, Jeonghwan Park, Derek Posselt, Zhaoxia Pu, Aaron Ridley, Emily Riley, Chris Ruf, Kaitie Schoenfeldt, Bill Schreiner, Seubson Soisuvarn, Tianlin Wang, Xiaosu Xie, Valery Zavorotny (Some not pictured, as they participated remotely.) Photo credit: Aaron Ridley

In addition to attending the science team meeting, I was asked to participate in press events today. It was fascinating to see what types of questions that the press and other audiences had during these events. My communication skills had to stretch across a large range of audiences today. I started off the day talking about my work to the science team in a more technical way, and ended the day talking to reporters and more general audiences. CYGNSS continues to be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience for me.

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Behind the scenes from a Facebook live event: my research advisor (and CYGNSS PI), Prof. Chris Ruf, and I talk about what we’re excited to see from CYGNSS after launch, with the aircraft and rocket carrying CYGNSS into orbit in the background. Photo credit: Aaron Ridley

CYGNSS Science Press Brief, From left to right: Sean Potter, Chris Ruf, Aaron Ridley, and me (Mary Morris). Photo Credit: Frank Marsik

CYGNSS Science Press Brief, From left to right: Sean Potter, Chris Ruf, Aaron Ridley, and me (Mary Morris). Photo credit: Frank Marsik

CYGNSS Launch weekend is finally here!

December 9th, 2016 by Mary Morris

My name is Mary Morris and I’m a Ph.D. candidate in the Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering department at the University of Michigan. My advisor, Prof. Chris Ruf, just so happens to be the principle investigator (PI) of the University of Michigan-led NASA Earth Venture class satellite mission, CYGNSS. CYGNSS consists of a constellation of eight satellites, scheduled to launch on December 12th. Soon! This mission will provide scientists with key hurricane ocean surface wind speed data, which we hypothesize will improve our understanding of how hurricanes form and develop. You can learn more about CYGNSS by reading earlier posts made by science team members on this blog section, or by going to nasa.gov/cygnss.

Since I have such a unique opportunity to be a CYGNSS science team member as a graduate student, I was asked to blog about my experiences in the days leading up to the launch. This has been a dream job for me and I’m excited to share my thoughts with you. In a few decades, if this blog still exists, I hope old-me will be able to look back at young-me and laugh at my wide-eyed, young scientist perspective recorded here for eternity.

So, why is working on the CYGNSS mission a dream graduate school gig? Well, I knew from a young-age that I wanted to study the weather, I just didn’t know the details of how to make a career out of my math and physics-based fascination of the atmosphere and Earth. Once I learned about remote sensing and satellite imagery, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to study more about remote sensing and eventually work on Earth science satellite missions. After a series of last minute applications to remote sensing-related research opportunities—applications that I thought were long shots—I ended up accepting Prof. Ruf’s research assistantship offer to join his remote sensing group as a Ph.D. student. The position turned out to be the graduate school jackpot: CYGNSS was selected for funding right as I started grad school. The timing could not have been better. I would get to see the inner workings of a satellite mission being developed throughout all of the design reviews and pre-launch data product development. Needless to say, it’s been an interesting ride. Since CYGNSS combines two of my passions—satellite observations and weather—it’s been a fun project to be a part of.

Graduate students are basically apprentices. If your ultimate goal is to be a scientist on Earth science satellite missions, being the graduate student working under a principal investigator of a NASA satellite mission is ideal. CYGNSS is my first satellite mission, but not my first hurricane-related research project. Here is a picture of me doing research as a part of the NASA HS3 mission (which, I also blogged about here!).

Here I am, downloading data from an aircraft instrument, HIRAD, after a science flight as a part of NASA's HS3 mission.

Here I am, downloading data from an aircraft instrument, HIRAD, after a science flight as a part of NASA’s HS3 mission.

I’m nearing the end of my graduate school career, and by working on both the HS3 and CYGNSS missions, I’ve gained a lot of great experience by working for and with the best engineers and scientists in our field. With the CYGNSS launch coinciding with the end of my graduate school journey, I can’t help but be a bit emotional at the end of one journey and the beginning of another.

Stay tuned for more updates throughout the weekend.

Go CYGNSS!

Notes from the Field