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Microwave-sounding information is an important type of data that satellites gather. While microwave sounders continuously provide information on the moisture and temperature in the atmosphere, optical and infrared imagers cannot see through clouds. These are crucial inputs for the computer models used to forecast the weather, together with the weather data obtained by tracking radio frequency signals.

A microwave sounder from RAL Space, the national laboratory of the British government, will be installed on future smallsats in the Spire Global fleet to enhance its weather forecasting services, the company announced on July 20. According to a representative for Spire, Kristina Spychalski, the Hyperspectral Microwave Sounder (HYMS) sensor from RAL Space would allow for the first measurement of atmospheric moisture.

Spire’s constellation of over 100 multipurpose satellites now collects air, surface, and space weather data using radio occultation and reflectometry. Pressure, humidity, and temperature of the air can all be measured with radio occultation equipment. For data on sea ice, ocean winds, and soil moisture, Spire uses reflectometry sensors. According to Kevin Petty, weather and Earth intelligence vice president at Spire, HYMS would give meteorological organizations that use Spire’s space-based data “the inputs needed to deliver even more precise forecasts.”

By “late 2023 to early 2024,” according to Spychalski, HYMS will be used for the first time on a demonstration mission utilizing a Spire satellite on the scale of 16 cubesats. The shoebox-sized HYMS, according to RAL Space, has up to 4 times additional frequency resolution compared to sounders mounted on much larger, government-operated weather satellites. “The HYMS technology we have developed is more cutting edge than anything that is currently on the market, and it is tremendously exciting to be able to provide its utilization to industry for space applications,” stated Peter Huggard, Leader at RAL Space of Millimetre Wave Technology Group.

Better atmospheric data for weather forecasting will be available thanks to the HYMS instrument’s enhanced spectral resolution, which will also result in significantly shorter measurement intervals when used in a small satellite constellation.

Earlier this year, the Boston-based startup Tomorrow.io revealed plans to expand the meteorological constellation it hopes to have in orbit by the close of 2024 by adding satellites equipped with microwave sounders. Tomorrow.io is collaborating on a microwave sounder with MIT Lincoln Laboratory, which receives funding from the US government, according to Rei Goffer, chief strategy officer and co-founder of the firm.

The device will be an enhanced variation of a payload employed by NASA’s TROPICS cubesat constellation, which monitors tropical cyclone intensity and precipitation structure. The launch of a TROPICS pathfinder satellite last year was successful. Astra’s Rocket 3.3 vehicle’s upper stage prematurely shut down on June 12, preventing the first 2 cubesats meant for the TROPICS constellation from entering orbit.

NASA had reserved three launches from Astra to conclude the constellation, which still has enough satellites to accomplish its scientific objectives. The failure is being examined by Astra. MIT Lincoln Laboratory was chosen by Tomorrow.io following a thorough analysis of other, more reliable technologies, according to Goffer, principally due to TROPICS’ greater technology maturity level.

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