On January 11, 2018, GeoOptics launched the first of its operational CICERO satellites for atmospheric radio occultation (RO). RO is a potent technique for sensing the atmosphere for improved weather forecasting accuracy, first proposed by GeoOptics founder and CTO Tom Yunck more than 30 years ago. The technique works by precisely observing the signals of GPS and other navigation satellites as the signals pass through the Earth’s atmosphere.
“We couldn’t be happier with how our team has performed over the last two years, both at GeoOptics and at our partners,” said GeoOptics CEO Conrad Lautenbacher. “I am confident that 2020 will see many new accomplishments — new launches, new capabilities, and new partners and applications for our high-quality global atmospheric data.”
Over the last two years the CICERO team, which includes key partners at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, has achieved the following significant milestones:
High-quality occultations – From the first occultations gathered in 2018, it was clear that CICERO would deliver exceptionally high-quality data. The quality of radio occultation data is primarily demonstrated by an absence of measurement bias, as well as by how low in the atmosphere the profiles penetrate. Based on the many occultations that have now been gathered, we now know that CICERO data reaches down to a median altitude of just 1,000 meters above sea level with minimal bias – virtually none above 3,000 meters.
First GLONASS occultations – In April 2018, via an on-orbit software update, CICERO began collecting occultation data from Russian GLONASS navigation satellites in addition to GPS, recording the first science-quality GLONASS occultations ever taken from Earth orbit.
Over 500 occultations per day – In May 2018, CICERO began producing more than 500 high-quality occultations per day, the world’s first nanosatellite to approach and surpass this milestone.
Data Deliveries to NOAA – On October 31, 2018, GeoOptics began near-real-time data deliveries to NOAA under our $3.44 million contract from the Commercial Weather Data Pilot program. Over the following year CICERO delivered a total of 356,490 high-quality occultations, each just a few hours after it was gathered. GeoOptics completed its contracted data deliveries to NOAA in September 2019.
Additional satellites – In November and December 2018, GeoOptics launched additional CICERO satellites. As a demonstration of the constellation’s agility, and with support from the expert operational team at Tyvak, these satellites were deployed, began operations and provided data to partners within hours of launch. Additional CICERO satellite launches will continue in 2020.
Ground operations developments for low latency – In the past year GeoOptics has significantly reduced data latency by expanding the CICERO ground stations network across the world, as well as by developing a ground processing platform that streams live occultation data from downlinks into processing as soon it is received, before the end of each pass.
“Our team has developed strategies for continuous development and deployment across our entire data system, from the satellites to the ground stations, data processing and delivery platform,” said Chief Operating Officer Alex Saltman. “We have taken tools originally designed for Agile web development and adapted them to enable reliable operation of science data streams with an agility that is new to the satellite industry.”
CICERO nanosatellites are designed to create the most detailed picture ever assembled of the Earth’s ionosphere, atmosphere, surface and subsurface. The first operational satellites contain advanced Global Navigation Satellite System Radio Occultation (GNSS-RO) sensors developed in partnership with JPL and Tyvak.
Yunck noted that “radio occultation has been shown to have ten times the impact on weather forecasting accuracy per sounding when compared to any other satellite-based Earth observation, and at a far lower cost. Large commercial RO satellite constellations will inaugurate a new era of weather forecasting excellence.”
New CICERO satellites, which are now in work with launches starting in the next few months, will expand upon this technology and carry complementary sensors to help provide our data partners a complete picture of the Earth’s environment.