November 17, 2019

Video: Inside the CYGNSS satellite factory and the Pegasus carrier aircraft


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Updated before Thursday’s launch attempt.

Spaceflight Now visited the CYGNSS production facility at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio and the Pegasus XL rocket’s carrier plane at Cape Canaveral for rare looks at hardware that make NASA’s $157 million hurricane research mission possible.

In the first video, CYGNSS integration and test manager Alan Henry at the Southwest Research Institute points out some of the major features of the CYGNSS microsatellites. Each one of the eight CYGNSS observatories weighs just 64 pounds (29 kilograms), not much more than the weight limit for carry-on luggage.

Mounted together on an adapter module supplied by Sierra Nevada Corp., the satellites are folded up to fit inside the envelope of their air-launched Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rocket. Once in space, they will unfurl solar panels extending around 5.5 feet (1.7 meters) across, shorter than the wing span of an average adult bald eagle.

They carry a Doppler radar receiver made by Surrey Satellite Technology, a U.S. subsidiary of Britain’s Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. A science team headquartered at the University of Michigan will analyze the data from the CYGNSS mission to determine wind speeds at the cores of hurricanes in hopes of improving cyclone forecasting.

The second video was taken inside the cockpit of Orbital ATK’s L-1011 carrier plane, a modified airliner first delivered by Lockheed to Air Canada in March 1974. Orbital ATK acquired the aircraft, nicknamed “Stargazer,” in 1992 and modified it for use as the Pegasus rocket carrier.

L-1011 pilot Don Walter will be in the left seat for the CYGNSS mission scheduled for Thursday, and he describes the process to release the 55-foot-long (17-meter) Pegasus rocket once the aircraft reaches a predetermined drop box over the Atlantic Ocean east of Daytona Beach.

Media representatives visited the L-1011 at the “Hot Pad” at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Skid Strip on Saturday.

The Pegasus will release at an altitude of 39,000 feet (11,900 meters) on an east-southeast heading, the proper position to place the eight CYGNSS satellites in a 317-mile-high (510-kilometer) orbit inclined 35 degrees to the equator.

Eight people will be aboard the L-1011 for Thursday’s mission, including three pilots, three Pegasus engineers, and two backup team members.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.


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