RainCube and TEMPEST-D Instruments Infused into Upcoming INCUS Mission
Two ESTO-funded instruments – RainCube and TEMPEST-D – prototyped breakthrough technologies that paved the way for NASA’s new Investigation of Convective Updrafts (INCUS) mission, which will help scientists better understand severe weather events.
INCUS will use three small satellites to collect novel data describing how convective storms cycle water and air through Earth’s atmosphere. The third addition to NASA’s Earth Ventures Mission portfolio, INCUS will allow scientists to observe the complex environmental factors that transform average convective storms into potent typhoons, cyclones, and hurricanes.
Small Ka-band radar systems and miniature millimeter wave radiometers capable of penetrating chaotic storm systems are essential to INCUS’s success, and those systems first entered low Earth orbit as part of ESTO’s RainCube and TEMPEST-D technology validation missions.
Launched in 2018, these 6U CubeSats achieved several milestones during their multi-year missions. RainCube was the first small satellite capable of transmitting an active, Ka-band radar signal, while TEMPEST-D pioneered a compact millimeter wave radiometer that could be used to monitor cloud and precipitation processes at a global scale.
In addition, RainCube’s collapsible antenna became a key technology innovation, allowing for miniaturized active-sensing radar onboard small satellite platforms.
Data sets from RainCube and TEMPEST-D complimented each other. While RainCube gathered vertical profiles of severe storms with its active, scanning sensor, TEMPEST-D probed storms horizontally with its passive, ‘push-broom’ sensor. Combined, these data sets allowed researchers to observe the innermost areas of severe storms with unprecedented clarity.
Though both instruments have since deorbited – RainCube in 2020 and TEMPEST-D in 2021 – during their mission life they observed several high-profile storms, including Typhoon Trami, Hurricane Marco, Hurricane Laura, and Typhoon Surigae – one of the most powerful tropical cyclones in history.