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Boston company plans satellites for global weather radar

March 18 (UPI) — A Boston weather services company, ClimaCell, plans to launch dozens of miniaturized weather satellites to provide more accurate predictions in remote areas.

The company, which already sells weather data services to such firms as Uber and Delta, won’t say how many satellites it plans. ClimaCell claims to have new technology that will allow relatively inexpensive construction of the spacecraft.

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ClimaCell’s said its satellites will provide coverage to remote areas that don’t have good radar, such as the oceans and vast areas of Africa, Canada, Russia and China.

The company designed the network as a less expensive, more accurate supplement for ground-based weather radar and billion-dollar government satellites.

“It’s not practical to cover the huge masses of land that are still outside of coverage from land-based radar, and we will never be able to cover the oceans,” Rei Goffer, chief strategy officer and co-founder of ClimaCell, said in an email.

“By creating global, frequent coverage of the entire earth’s atmosphere [from space], we will be able to radically reduce uncertainty in forecasting models,” he said.

“This means better hurricane prediction, better flood alerts, better navigation for airplanes and ships to avoid storms, and infinite other applications.”

The company has raised $ 112 million from such investors as SoftBank Energy, Square Peg and Pitango Venture Capital, Goffer said. It said it needs about $ 150 million to deploy the first round of satellites and start service.

The company plans to build on its current subscription model, adding sales to firms or governments in remote areas. It also plans to provide data to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Better use of such smaller, space-based technology is a priority for NOAA and the National Weather Service, Vanessa Griffin, a scientist and director at NOAA’s satellite and information service, said in an email.

A NOAA study in 2017 found that engaging with private companies such as ClimaCell would help NOAA more accurately predict global weather patterns, “because of the rapid acceleration of innovation and technology in the private sector,” Griffin said.

But NOAA cannot always reveal the private companies with which it is working due to proprietary concerns, agency spokesman John Leslie said in an email.

ClimaCell calls its new satellite effort Operation Tomorrow Space and plans the first satellite launch in 2022. Negotiations are ongoing with potential launch providers, Goffer said.

The key to ClimaCell’s plan is miniaturization of weather sensors, Goffer said. That means the new satellites can be about the size of a refrigerator rather than a city bus, which is the size of the largest government weather satellites.

ClimaCell built on knowledge gained from a 2018 NASA mission called RainCube, which was a shoebox-sized weather satellite that operated successfully in orbit for more than two years, according to NASA.

Such a space-based system of affordable weather satellites is the only way to provide accurate global prediction and monitoring, said Pavlos Kollias, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Stony Brook University on Long Island, N.Y.

“Launching a weather radar satellite into space has not been an easy proposition, historically,” Kollias said. “This has all become possible through miniaturization of technology.”

Once ClimaCell launches a global constellation of satellites, the system will have redundancy, said Kollias, who is familiar with ClimaCell’s operations.

“The beautiful thing is, if you have dozens or hundreds of these someday, you don’t really worry about one of these going bad, because there’s enough to cover any gaps until a future launch,” Kollias said.

Out-of-this-world images from space

NASA spacewalker and Expedition 64 Flight Engineer Victor Glover works to ready the International Space Station’s port-side truss structure for future solar array upgrades on January 27, 2021. Photo courtesy of NASA | License Photo

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