Spire Global's new Global Navigation Satellite System-Reflectometry satellites began gathering data in January 2020. This image shows where a Spire satellite began gathered data over the Tibetan Plateau. Credit: Spire

BOSTON – Spire Global shared early data from new Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Reflectometry cubesats at the American Meteorological Society conference here.

Spire launched two GNSS Reflectometry cubesats Dec. 11 on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. The spacecraft, equipped with bistatic radars to observe how GNSS signals scatter after bouncing off Earth surface features, began collecting data Jan. 2. “Everything is working well,” Dallas Masters, Spire GNSS program manager, told SpaceNews.

With its existing fleet of more than 80 cubesats, Spire gathers GNSS radio occultation weather data in addition to tracking ships and airplanes. The European Space Agency’s Pioneer program, which supports demonstration of new technologies, systems and services, helped fund Spire’s GNSS Reflectometry program.

Spire’s first two GNSS Reflectometry cubesats are technology demonstrators. Spire is developing two more GNSS Reflectometry cubesats to launch later this year, Masters said.

With the second pair of GNSS Reflectometry cubesats, Spire plans to offer sustained monitoring of soil moisture and ocean winds. The data will have important applications for weather forecasting, agriculture, drought monitoring and flood prediction, Masters said.

Spire’s GNSS Reflectometry work was inspired by government programs. In 2014, the United Kingdom launched TechDemoSat-1, a 157-kilogram GNSS Reflectometry satellite built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.

In 2016, NASA launched eight 30-kilogram Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS) satellites built by the Southwest Research Institute and the University of Michigan. CYGNSS satellites, designed primarily to track ocean winds, have proven valuable for soil moisture and flood monitoring.

Spire’s GNSS Reflectometry cubesats measure reflected signals from GNSS constellations including the U.S. Global Positioning System, Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System, Europe’s Galileo, Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...