New satellite system aims to improve hurricane forecasting

A system of new weather satellites is due to launch into space as early as late Monday night, and if all goes to plan, it should lead to even greater reliability when it comes to predicting hurricanes and other potentially deadly storms.

COSMIC 2 (Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate) is a system of six satellites that’s part of a joint program between NOAA, the U.S. Air Force, and Taiwan.

“It’s going to take valuable measurements in the tropics and sub tropics of the earth in the region where hurricanes and tropical storms form,” said Elsayed Talaat, director of the Office of Projects, Planning, and Analysis at NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service.

As the system orbits the earth over the tropics, it’ll collect data that will “help meteorologists better observe, research, and forecast hurricanes, typhoons, and other potentially deadly, destructive storms.”

It comes at a time when we’ve seen hurricanes become more damaging in recent years — and not just along the coast either — once flooding is factored in.

Research findings released earlier this month showing the potential impact of a major hurricane making a direct hit in Virginia’s Tidewater area underscores the need for as much preparation as possible, which COSMIC 2 hopes to provide by focusing on collecting data from the world’s tropical region.

“This is where the hurricanes and tropical storms form,” Talaat said. “They form in the tropics and they come out into the mid-latitudes. So it’s important to get high resolution data there.”

But the COSMIC 2 also has a second job that can also have a big impact on your day to day life, rain or shine. By measuring electron density in the upper atmosphere, Talaat said it’ll help scientists “predict the space weather conditions that can disrupt our communication and navigation system, and potentially impact our power grid on the ground.”

Weather permitting, the new satellites will launch into space as soon as 11:30 p.m. Monday, June 24, on board a SpaceX rocket in Cape Canaveral in Florida. Watch the launch on NASA’s website.

Each satellite is about the size of a kitchen oven and once deployed into orbit scientists will conduct about seven months of testing before its mission becomes full go.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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