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Southwest Research Institute sends eight satellites into orbit

Satellites to measure hurricane intensity

SAN ANTONIO – The Southwest Research Institute is sending eight new satellites into orbit.

"This is the very first time we have built a spacecraft, the whole thing," said John Scherrer, a mechanical engineer at SWRI.

University of Michigan faculty members, NASA and SWRI all played critical roles in creating the Cyclone Global Satellite Navigation System.

Scherrer said SWRI's first spacecraft built in-house should help solve a big weather problem: predicting hurricane intensity.

"We know where it’s going. We don't know how strong it'll be," Scherrer said.

Dr. Christopher Ruf, who oversees CYGNSS, said it will measure hurricane winds everywhere all of the time.

"Nobody can do that now. We have these special airplanes that can fly into hurricanes to make the measurements when we can. And it'll be sort of like having those everywhere all the time," Ruf said.

Ruf said the airplanes will continue to be on the forefront, but the new satellites should exponentially improve the ability to predict the strength of hurricanes.

"We don't want to stop flying those. They make other measurements besides winds as well," Ruf said about the planes.

Ruf said the planes are limited.

"They can only fly when the storms start getting close to the U.S.  And we'll also be able to measure them in the Pacific Ocean, which isn't done now," Ruf said.

All eight satellites will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Nov. 21. Scherrer said the $105 million project should pay huge dividends shortly after its launch.

"Hopefully within one to two years," Scherrer said.

For more information about NASA's CYGNSS mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/cygnss.