GeoOptics upgrades CICERO constellation to track climate change

July 30, 2021  - By
Graphic: Petrovich9/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Graphic: Petrovich9/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

CICERO-2 satellites will track Earth’s atmosphere, water, surface and interior

Remote sensing company GeoOptics Inc. has upgraded its CICERO constellation of satellites that measure the Earth’s climate. With launches beginning next year, CICERO-2 will form a unified Earth observatory allowing governments, industry and individual stakeholders to monitor and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

“In today’s environment, in which precision Earth sensing is becoming ever more critical, GeoOptics is deploying a flexible observatory made up of dozens of small satellites,” said Alex Saltman, Chief Executive Officer of GeoOptics. “The real time services will satisfy a broad range of needs for government and civil users around the world.”

The first CICERO-2 satellites launched are designed to achieve key milestones in small satellite Earth observation, including:

  • Advanced GNSS reflectometry (GNSS-R). Advanced GNSS-R measures many phenomena near Earth’s surface, including ocean winds, flooding, land cover (snow, ice, vegetation), soil moisture and topography by means of reflected GNSS signals. NASA’s recent CYGNSS mission demonstrated the broad utility of the GNSS-R technique. GeoOptics is working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to deploy an advanced operational version, offering dramatically enhanced performance in a small, low-cost package. This collaboration is funded jointly by GeoOptics, the U.S. Air Force, and NASA.
  • Triple radio occultation (GNSS-RO). GNSS-RO enables Profiling of atmospheric temperature, pressure, density and other key properties. First proposed by company founder Tom Yunck while he was at JPL, GNSS-RO offers extreme measurement precision and is an essential contributor to global weather forecasting. The CICERO-2 satellites will yield three times the data volume of their predecessors and many times the volume.
  • Global precipitation watch.  The CICERO-2 satellites will monitor heavy precipitation using polarimetric radio occultation (RO), an advanced remote sensing technique pioneered by GeoOptics’ collaborators at JPL and the Spanish PAZ mission.

Measuring weather changes

For GeoOptics’ strategic partner Climavision, a weather data provider, these innovations will enable customers to manage significant risks in a time of global change. “With these new developments in remote-sensing technologies from GeoOptics, we’ll be able to further enhance our climate and weather prediction capabilities,” said Chris Goode, CEO and co-founder of Climavision. “Through the combination of advanced RO profiles, GNSS-R data about surface conditions and our proprietary gap-filling radar network data, we’ll help customers in weather-sensitive industries see weather like never before and give them the tools and data to make informed critical decisions.”

GeoOptics will later extend the system to a range of new applications, including precise mapping of Earth’s gravitational field, which has been named a top NASA Earth science priority for the next decade. This measurement shows the imprint of climate-related movement of water and other key changes in the Earth.

With internal investment and nearly $4 million from NASA, GeoOptics has devised a unique system architecture for daily gravity mapping with clusters of small satellites. This patented technique promises to improve gravity sensing 20-fold over current methods at a fraction of the cost.

Under the umbrella of the National Oceanographic Partnership Program (NOPP), GeoOptics is also designing a radar instrument to observe ocean vector winds, topography, soil moisture and a variety of other surface properties with patented multi-satellite radar techniques. NOPP is seeking to sponsor a trial flight of GeoOptics’Cellular Ocean Altimetry/Scatterometry Technology (COAST) within the next two years.

Tom Yunck, GeoOptics’ Chief Technology Officer, said, “These advanced remote sensing applications – from basic RO to advanced radar and gravity mapping – exploit shared micro technologies that fit in the palm of one’s hand. Each new function builds naturally upon the previous, yielding prodigious observing capacity in a low-cost system of great simplicity and reliability.”

“CICERO-2 is designed to help provide high-priority NOAA climate and weather monitoring observations, as ranked by the NOAA Space Platform Requirements Working Group (SPRWG),” said Conrad C. Lautenbacher (Vice Admiral, USN ret.), executive chairman of GeoOptics and former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) administrator. “It can also play a key role in supporting crucial Defense Department satellite weather data requirements.”

GeoOptics’ CICERO satellites continue to provide precise global profiles of the Earth’s atmosphere. In February, NOAA selected GeoOptics to provide the first commercial satellite data to be included in its operational forecasts.

In 2020, GeoOptics was selected by NOAA to lead an end-to-end design study for its next-generation low-orbiting weather satellite system, planned to come online later this decade, building in part on RO and GNSS-R technologies.

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About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.