NASA launches 8 mini-satellites for hurricane forecasting

This undated artist rendering provided by NASA shows the Jason-3 satellite. The latest in a series of U.S.-European satellites designed to detect ocean events like El Nino is scheduled for launch Sunday, Jan. 17, from California. If successful, the Jason 3 satellite will continue more than two decades of sea level measurements. (NASA via AP)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA has launched eight mini-satellites to measure surface wind deep in the heart of hurricanes.

The plane carrying the satellites took off shortly after sunrise Thursday from Cape Canaveral, Florida. An hour later, the co-pilot pushed the button that released the Pegasus rocket and attached satellites 39,000 feet above the Atlantic, 100 miles east of Daytona Beach. The Pegasus fired five seconds later, propelling the satellites toward orbit.

The $157 million Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System is meant to improve hurricane forecasting. The CYGNSS (SIG-nis) satellites have GPS navigation receivers to measure the surface roughness of oceans, letting scientists calculate wind speed and storm intensity. The spacecraft can peer through rain swirling in a hurricane, into the eye, or core.

Each spacecraft is just 64 pounds, with a 5-foot wingspan.

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