At 6:40 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, Friday, April 14, 2006, a constellation of six satellites launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., with the mission of improving weather forecasts, monitoring climate change, and enhancing space weather research and operations.
The Office of Naval Research is one of several partners in this joint U.S.-Taiwanese project called the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate, or COSMIC. The satellites will spend the next 13 months conducting geodetic and gravity experiments as they move into their final mission orbits. Once in position, they will provide atmospheric data daily and in real time, over thousands of points on Earth for both research and operational weather forecasting.
COSMIC relies on a technique called radio occultation, which takes advantage of the bending effect the atmosphere has on radio waves. The COSMIC satellites will monitor radio signals from U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) and from the way the signals are bent by the atmosphere, will be able to determine temperature, pressure, and water vapor in the stratosphere and troposphere, as well as electron density in the ionosphere.
Temperature and water vapor profiles will help meteorologists observe, research, and forecast storm patterns over the oceans, and measurements of electron density could improve analysis and forecasting of space weather—the geomagnetic storms that can interrupt sensitive satellite and communications systems and affect power grids on the ground.
Because radio signals pierce thick cloud cover and precipitation, weather conditions will not interfere with COSMIC's data gathering, as is often the case for remote sensing platforms.
In addition to providing support for the COSMIC program and science support for algorithms related to COSMIC measurements at UCAR and the National Central University in Taiwan, explained program officer Dr. Robert McCoy, ONR sponsored COSMIC to the Department of Defense Space Test Program (STP) through the DoD Space Experiments Review Board. The STP in turn, provided four million dollars to the program and helped COSMIC get a launch aboard a Minotaur rocket.
Taiwan´s National Science Council and National Space Organization provided more than $80 million for the system. The U.S. National Science Foundation, lead agency for COSMIC science activities, and its partners provided an additional $20 million. Major partners include the National Aeronautics and Space Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, STP, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Office of Naval Research, and the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center which managed launch activities. Orbital Sciences Corporation designed the spacecraft. NASA´s Jet Propulsion Laboratory designed and produced the prototype high-performance GPS science receiver. Broad Reach Engineering built the receivers for the satellite constellation. The Naval Research Laboratory designed and built a series of ultraviolet Tiny Ionospheric Photometers (TIP) and a UHF Tri-Band Beacons (TBB) for nighttime radio tomographic sensing respectively for each satellite. The satellite constellation was assembled and tested in Taiwan.