Plane sailing


Some satellites aren't launched from the ground, but get a leg up on a plane.


NASA / Lori Losey

Hurricane forecasters will soon have a new tool to better understand and forecast storm intensity. A constellation of eight microsatellites, called NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System mission, or CYGNSS, got a boost into Earth orbit on 15 December aboard an Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rocket.

The unique, air-launched vehicle was carried aloft by Orbital’s modified L-1011 aircraft, “Stargazer,” which took off from the Skid Strip runway at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and deployed the three-stage Pegasus XL rocket at a predetermined drop point 39,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean and about 110 nautical miles east-northeast of Daytona Beach.

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