A Maryland-based company named PlanetiQ is planning to launch a constellation of up to 18 small satellites over the next four years that are designed to significantly improve weather forecasting, climate monitoring and space weather predictions with up-to-date data.
Each satellite will include a fourth-generation radio occultation sensor that will receive signals from all four Global Navigation Satellite Systems–GPS, GLONASS, Galileo and Beidou. Data will be collected and transmitted to users in near real time, PlanetiQ General Counsel Karen Dacres, PlanetiQ’s said during the FAA’s 18th Annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference on Wednesday.
“Our data will be delivered to users with an average latency of three minutes,” Dacres said. “Particularly for severe weather events and space weather prediction, time is of the essence. It is all about the mission and improving our weather forecast. So, from the small sats perspective, we are looking at achieving a quantity and quality of radio occultation. Data is very important because poor data will degrade the forecast rather than improve it.”
Radio occultation is used to “derive high-precision vertical profiles of atmospheric temperature, pressure and water vapor used in numerical weather prediction, as well as measurements of the ionosphere to support space weather alerting, by observing the bending of GPS signals as they travel through Earth’s atmosphere,” the company said in a recent press release.
PlanetiQ’s commercial weather data will supplement weather data provided by existing government weather satellites, not replace it, Dacres said.
The company expects to deploy a constellation of 12 smallsats into low Earth orbit by 2017, with an additional six satellites scheduled for launch by 2019. “The PlanetiQ constellation will collect over 8 million observations per day for greatly enhanced weather forecasting, climate monitoring and space weather prediction,” the company said in its press release.
Dacres said the industry has reached a “tipping point” where improved small satellite technologies and lower launch costs have combined to make commercial weather forecasting possible.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who chairs the House Environment Subcommittee, said he expects the U.S. government to purchase weather data from the private sector in the future. The government has already turned to the private sector for remote sensing and communications services.
Bridenstine said the ability to diversify the nation’s weather satellite system away from large satellites would improve security. He mentioned a recent incident in which Chinese hackers allegedly hacked into the National Weather Service. Further, the Chinese military destroyed a satellite in orbit in 2007, creating more than 5,000 pieces of debris.