Image: Cosmic spacecraft
Orbital Sciences Corp.
Six microsatellites, shown in this artist's conception, have been put into low-Earth orbit to form COSMIC: the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate.
updated 4/14/2006 10:42:48 PM ET 2006-04-15T02:42:48

A rocket carrying six small weather satellites blasted off Friday on a five-year mission to track hurricanes, monitor climate change and study space weather.

The satellites, a joint venture by Taiwan and the United States, launched from California's Central Coast aboard a Minotaur rocket shortly after 6:30 p.m. PT (9:30 p.m. ET) and were expected to reach orbit about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth.

The launch had been delayed more than an hour, due to a problem that came to light only 90 seconds before the original liftoff time, but launch controllers resolved the problem in time for a second try on Friday.

One of the satellite's primary goals will be to take real-time daily measurements of the atmosphere over thousands of points on Earth by using global positioning receivers to track radio signals passing through the atmosphere, scientists said.

The $100 million mission was funded by Taiwan and several U.S. agencies including the National Science Foundation. The project is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

The information gathered will be used to enhance research and improve weather forecasting. Scientists hope the refined data from the satellites will help them better track storms and monitor long-term climate change.

Taiwan's National Space Organization said the mission should help the country better predict typhoons, including their wind strength and rainfall amount.

The low-orbiting satellites should also help improve forecasting space weather, by predicting the intensity of geomagnetic storms that can disrupt satellite and communications systems on Earth.

The satellites, which weigh 155 pounds (70 kilograms) each and are 40 inches (1 meter) long, are equipped with three instruments including a GPS radio receiver, a photometer and a beacon to relay data to ground station on Earth.

The mission is known as COSMIC in the United States and FORMOSAT-3 in Taiwan. COSMIC stands for Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate.

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