U.S., Taiwan Launch Joint Weather Satellites

A rocket carrying six small weather satellites blasted off Friday evening 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 aboard a Minotaur rocket shortly after 6:30 p.m. and were expected to reach orbit about 250 miles above Earth.

One of the primary goals of the satellites 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 would help them better track storms and monitor long-term climate change.

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

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

The satellites, which weigh 155 pounds each and are 40 inches 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.