Wednesday, October 1, 2014

QuikSCAT's Replacement, RapidScat, Arrives At International Space Station, Will Resume Hurricane Forecasting Capabilities Much Missed Since QuikSCAT's 2009 Demise

Dr. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground tells us about RapidScat. This one is worth reading in its (relatively short) entirety. Here are some of the basics, from a post on Dr. Masters's blog yesterday:
In November 2009, one of the greatest success stories in the history of satellite meteorology came to an end when the venerable QuikSCAT satellite failed. Launched in 1999, the QuikSCAT satellite became one of the most useful and controversial meteorological satellites ever to orbit the Earth. It carried a scatterometer--a radar instrument that can measure near-surface wind speed and direction over the ocean. ... A QuikSCAT replacement called ISS-RapidScat was funded in 2012 and built in just 18 months. RapidScat was successfully launched on September 20, 2014 on a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft, which docked last week with the International Space Station (ISS.) This morning, RapidScat was plucked out of the Dragon and install it on the Space Station. The heaters have been turned on, and full activation of RapidScat is expected on Wednesday. In a clever reuse of hardware originally built to test parts of NASA's QuikScat satellite, RapidScat cost NASA just $30 million--80% lower than if the instrument had been built new.

Wednesday... that's today! And according to Masters's article, it has been installed.

QuikSCAT lasted 10 years, well beyond its expected lifetime of 3 years, and was much appreciated by those of us who live in hurricane‑affected areas, for whom early and accurate forecasts are the key to preparation and thus to human survival and, where possible, avoidance of large-scale storm damage. It's been a scary few years without QuikSCAT; RapidScat, though its virtues and limitations are different, is a welcome replacement.

Please note that this is one of the first serious practical missions using a privately developed SpaceX spacecraft, which is, to put it bluntly, all America has in the way of launch capability now that the Space Shuttle has retired. Even putting aside a projected Mars mission in a few years, everyone will benefit from the availability of these craft. And considering the cost saving in delivering RapidScat to the ISS, surely even Republicans could learn to love SpaceX, with its ever-developing expertise in automated space technology.

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