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Atmospheric Chemistry

Space weather satellites set to launch

Taiwan and the US will operate 6 satellites that will improve tropical-storm prediction and provide details about the ionosphere

by Katherine Bourzac
June 15, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 24


Rendering of a COSMIC-2 satellite in orbit over the tropics.
Credit: Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.
Six COSMIC-2 satellites will monitor space weather over the tropics.

On June 24, the US and Taiwan are scheduled to launch a coterie of six small satellites that will orbit tropical latitudes. The satellites, a joint project of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Taiwan National Space Agency, will provide more frequent high-resolution data about temperature, pressure, and water vapor, improving tropical-storm forecasts. The project, called COSMIC-2 in the US and FORMOSAT-7 in Taiwan, will also provide an unprecedented level of detail about the planet’s ionosphere. This upper level of the atmosphere is a swirl of electrons and ions, blasted by the sun and adjacent to the Earth’s magnetosphere. So far, atmospheric scientists have had limited tools for monitoring this region. Previous satellite and ground-based systems provided infrequent, low-resolution data about the ionosphere. COSMIC-2 will continuously monitor the electron density of the ionosphere from 40° north of the equator to 40° south, tracking how charges move and potentially enabling predictions of space weather. “We’re not getting this data from any other source,” says Elsayed Talaat, an atmospheric scientist who directs NOAA’s Office of Projects, Planning, and Analysis. He says the agency hopes this continuous monitoring will help predict magnetic and electrical disturbances that can interfere with air traffic and the electrical grid.


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