The Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) airborne mission to monitor the development of tropical storms in the Atlantic Ocean will begin in late August and will conclude in early October, covering most of the 2012 hurricane season. The endeavor is being led by NASA.
The American space agency and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are very interested in what makes tropical storms develop so incredibly fast, and become so devastating over night. The 2012 leg of the HS3 mission is a small part of the effort to figure this out.
Tropical storms Alberto and Beryl have already emerged in the Atlantic Ocean, even though initial productions suggest that this year's hurricane season will not produce too many intense storms.
Studying the Atlantic hurricane season is a long-term scientific objective. NASA plans to conduct HS3-like investigations every year for the foreseeable future, using its two Global Hawk Sentinel unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).
Both vehicles can fly at altitudes of up to 18,300 meters (60,000 feet), and they have the ability to remain airborne for as many as 28 hours. Since they are robots, this eliminates the need to rotate crews, or take humans' need to rest into account.
The research effort is being led by several NASA centers, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL) at the California Institute of Technology. A large number of universities will also join the research initiative.
The two Sentinels are currently based in Virginia, at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, but their home airport is at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, on the outskirts of Edwards Air Force Base (EAFB), in California.
“Hurricane intensity can be very hard to predict because of an insufficient understanding of how clouds and wind patterns within a storm interact with the storm's environment,” HS3 mission principal investigator, Scott Braun, explains.
“HS3 seeks to improve our understanding of these processes by taking advantage of the surveillance capabilities of the Global Hawk along with measurements from a suite of advanced instruments,” he goes on to say.
“One aircraft will sample the environment of storms while the other will measure eyewall and rainband winds and precipitation,” concludes the expert, who holds an appointment as a research meteorologist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland.