ANN ARBOR (WWJ) — A $151.7-million hurricane-prediction satellite project led by Michigan Engineering has recently passed a major NASA milestone.

The Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, scheduled to be launched in 2014, will make accurate measurements of ocean surface winds throughout the life cycle of tropical storms and hurricanes. It recently passed NASA’s systems requirements review and can now move into the next phase of development.

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NASA’s program assessments, consisting of a standing review board of independent reviewers, help ensure technical objectives, cost and schedule are in line with the mission requirements, according to project collaborator the Southwest Research Institute.

Weather models help forecasters accurately predict the path of hurricanes and cyclones, but are unable to reliably predict their intensity. The CYGNSS mission, which was conceived at the University of Michigan, will place a constellation of eight microsatellites into low-Earth orbit. Using GPS signals to measure ocean surface properties, moist atmospheric thermodynamics, radiation and convective dynamics, CYGNSS will determine how a tropical cyclone forms and if and by how much it will strengthen, thereby helping to advance forecasting and tracking methods.

“The hurricane forecast community is very excited about the improvements that are possible with CYGNSS,” says Chris Ruf, CYGNSS principal investigator and Michigan Engineering professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences. “This mission, being the first of its kind to use reflected GPS signals for Earth science, also opens the door to a host of other new applications in oceanography, hydrology and studies of the cryosphere.”

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In addition to Ruf, the CYGNSS mission team comprises several members of the University of Michigan community, including atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences professors Derek Posselt and Aaron Ridley as well as space physics research laboratory scientists Bruce Block and Damen Provost.

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) leads development and integration of the eight microsatellites.

“During the next phase, we’ll be working out the details on the design of the mission leading up to the mission Preliminary Design Review,” said John Scherrer, CYGNSS program manager and program director in the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division. “We will also start to see our first engineering model hardware in preparation for defining our flight development, which is really exciting.”

CYGNSS is the second award, and first award for space-based investigations, in the Earth Venture-class series of rapidly developed, cost-constrained projects for NASA’s Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Earth Venture missions are part of NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder program. The small, targeted science investigations complement NASA’s larger research missions. NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., manages the Earth System Science Pathfinder program.

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UM’s College of Engineering has nine of its 11 academic departments ranked in the nation’s top 10. At $190 million annually, its engineering research budget is one of largest of any public university.