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NASA awards launch service contract for TROPICS mission to study storm processes

(26 February 2021 - NASA) NASA has selected Astra Space Inc. to provide a launch service for the agency’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of SmallSats (TROPICS) mission.

The TROPICS mission consists of a constellation of six CubeSats and will increase the scientific community’s understanding of storm processes.

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A constellation of identical 3U CubeSats provide sounding (left CubeSat has a temperature profile of a simulated Tropical Cyclone (TC) from a numerical weather prediction (NWP) model) and 12-channel radiometric imagery (center CubeSat has simulated radiances from NWP model and radiative transfer model and the near right CubeSat has a single-channel radiance image of a TC) with a median revisit rate approaching 30 minutes to meet most PATH requirements. (courtesy: NASA)

The launch service contract for the TROPICS mission is a firm fixed-price contract valued at $7.95 million. NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will manage the launch service.

The CubeSats, each the size of a shoebox, will provide rapid-refresh microwave measurements that can be used to determine temperature, pressure, and humidity inside hurricanes as they form and evolve. The TROPICS mission’s high-revisit imaging and sounding observations are enabled by microwave technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory. These observations will profoundly improve scientists' understanding of processes driving high-impact storms.

Astra Space will launch the CubeSats on the company’s Rocket 3 from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands with three separate launches over a 120-day period. The TROPICS mission is targeted for launch between Jan. 8 and July 31, 2022, under a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launch license.