Rocket Lab successfully launched a pair of CubeSats for the NASA TROPICS mission on May 8 at 01:00 a.m. UTC. The CubeSat are part of a six-satellites constellation that will enable high-visibility global observations of precipitation, temperature, and humidity, providing valuable insights into the formation and evolution of tropical cyclones and hurricanes.
The TROPICS mission, officially known as the Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats, aims to monitor the formation and evolution of tropical cyclones, including hurricanes, with a constellation of six CubeSats.
These CubeSats are divided into three low-Earth orbital planes, each hosting a high-performance radiometer with temperature and water vapor profiles. The observing system offers an unprecedented combination of horizontal and temporal resolution to measure environmental and inner-core conditions for tropical cyclones on a nearly global scale. This mission is part of NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder Program and serves as a model for future missions with improved resolution, configurable coverage, flexibility, reliability, and launch access at extremely low cost.
🛰🛰🌀Today’s TROPICS launch will deploy two #CubeSats to an orbital plane in low-Earth orbit.— NASA's Launch Services Program (@NASA_LSP) May 7, 2023
A second launch in the coming weeks will add another pair to the constellation in a different orbit, allowing for frequent measurements of developing storms! pic.twitter.com/LeoVNP2hiM
After the launch failure in June 2022 that resulted in the loss of two CubeSats, NASA rebid the two remaining launches of the TROPICS constellation. The previous launch attempt was conducted by Astra Space on June 12, but the rocket’s upper stage shut down prematurely. Instead, earlier in the day, the TROPICS-01 Pathfinder CubeSat was launched on June 30, 2021, on SpaceX Transporter 2. It was a test to verify the orbit duration that must exceed the one-year mission duration and the 25-year de-orbit requirement.
The upcoming launch
Rocket Lab will launch the mission in two separate Electron launches from Launch Complex 1 in Mahia, New Zealand. The first launch, Rocket Like A Hurricane, successfully lifted off on May 7, 2023, with the second launch, Coming To A Storm Near You, scheduled for not earlier than May 16, 2023. The constellation will be deployed into its operational orbit within a 60-day period to ensure it reaches orbit in time for the North American 2023 hurricane season. Rocket Lab will not attempt to recover Electron’s first stage for either of these missions.
It was another successful launch for RocketLab as they successfully launched their 36th Electron rocket.