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WATCH: NASA Rocket Deploys 'Satellite Constellation' After Unique Air-Launch

A Pegasus rocket containing eight mini-satellites is air-launched on Thursday.
A Pegasus rocket containing eight mini-satellites is air-launched on Thursday.

NASA has just launched eight micro-satellites that will allow scientists to make better predictions about hurricanes.

And it was a unique event — the rocket carrying the satellites launched from an airliner, rather than from the ground. It's a way to cut costs, as The Associated Press reports, and also makes for quite a show.

First, an aircraft called "Stargazer" took off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Thursday morning. Then, when it reached 39,000 feet above sea level and about 110 nautical miles off Daytona Beach, it air-launched the Orbital ATK Pegasus XL rocket, which was carrying the satellites.

You can see the Pegasus rocket drop from the aircraft at about the 2:30 mark in this video. It ignites and carries the satellites into orbit.

The satellites then started to deploy from the rocket in pairs. NASA says the first pair started 13 minutes after launch and then continued every 30 seconds.

"It's a great event when you have a successful spacecraft separation — and with eight micro-satellites, you get to multiply that times eight," NASA Launch Manager Tim Dunn said.

NASA posted a video of applause in the control room as the eight satellites successfully deployed into orbit.

This constellation of satellites, called the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, will be measuring surface winds at the center of tropical cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons, NASA says. The project's principal investigator, Chris Ruf, said this is the "first time ever that satellites can peer into the middle of hurricanes and predict how strong they'll be when they make landfall."

"Scientists want the satellites up and running before the start of the hurricane season on June 1," according to The Associated Press.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

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