Tomorrow.io, a meteorological intelligence firm, has chosen Astro Digital of California to create the first 2 of dozens of the small satellites outfitted with the storm-tracking radars to enhance weather forecasts. According to Aravind Ravichandran, director in charge of the strategy for space at Tomorrow.io, the two initial demonstration satellites, each roughly the size of a mini-fridge, would be centered on the Corvus-XL satellite platform of Astro Digital and launched in the late 2022 on an unidentified rocket.
In an interview with SpaceNews, Ravichandran said that Tommorow.io does not have production or launch deals in position for the rest of projected low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation of roughly 30 satellites, which it hopes to begin installing in late 2023 and conclude in 2024. The partnership is also still going through regulatory approval processes with the Federal Communications Commission, but it intends to operate on a previously authorized spectrum.
He said the whole constellation seeks to deliver global 3D precipitation maps which refresh every hour, utilizing a radar payload which the Tomorrow.io is building at its Boston base. According to a NASA official, similar data from NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite’s Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar is refreshed every 2 – 3 days. However, the interval is not uniform at any one location and increases more frequent at the higher latitudes.
Forecasters use terrestrial radars to provide more frequent precipitation updates to their meteorological models. However, because these ground-centered networks can only be installed on land and are typically limited to affluent countries, Ravichandran claims that much of the globe is out of reach. He said that more frequent precipitation observations in locations where ground-centered radars do not cover would enhance global data on hurricanes, floods, and other severe weather events.
Tomorrow.io, which rebranded from ClimaCell in March after funding $77 million, collaborated with remote sensing experts Muon Space to design the architecture for the operational constellation. Astro Digital also provides mission formulation solutions, but Ravichandran says Tomorrow.io decided to outsource this due to the volume of work. “It’s going to take a lot of work to have these first two satellites built,” he added. “So that’s where we’re concentrating our efforts with Astro Digital. Muon is also assisting the broader forward trade analyses that we’re working on in a parallel effort.”
Through its modeling software, Tomorrow.io now leverages data from the NASA’s GPM mission as well as other sources to give forward-looking research for organizations that are strongly impacted by weather patterns, such as airlines and taxi services. Beyond its Ka-band precipitation radar (KaPR), GPM offers several instruments, and John Springmann, vice president of space at Tomorrow.io, said his satellites won’t have similar breadth of data collecting, and “we don’t have the same research-grade features.”