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NASA awards $177M to Colorado State University for first-of-its-kind INCUS weather satellites

NASA awards $177M to CSU for first of its kind INCUS weather satellites
NASA awards $177M to CSU for first of its kind INCUS weather satellites 02:34

Soon Americans could have a view of severe storms through technology never created before, thanks in part to researchers at Colorado State University. NASA recently awarded $177 million to CSU's Department of Atmospheric Sciences to develop the INCUS program, a system of satellites that will give researchers a 3D view of evolving storms from space. 

"INCUS has a lot of impacts on the everyday Coloradan," said Kristen Rasmussen, Associate Professor at CSU and co-investigator for INCUS.

Rasmussen is among many at CSU who are working on the project. INCUS stands for "Investigation of Convertible Updraft." In short, the series of three satellites being developed with partners in Colorado will scan storms from space to determine their volume. 

"The goal of INCUS is to study how air and water move up in a global context," Rasmussen told CBS News Colorado's Dillon Thomas. 

Currently, many weather researchers, forecasters and climatologists rely on weather radars anchored into the ground to understand much about storms. Satellites in space, as of now, can send back imaging of the storms. However, none of the satellites in space are capable of scanning the volume of the storms and sending back those results live back to Earth as the storms evolve. 

"(Current) radars just get one snapshot. We see one particular slice of a storm and we don't have any information about the motion," Rasmussen said. "A lot of our models overestimate the intensity of convective systems because we don't have a lot of these estimates."

Once launched and in orbit, expected in October of 2026, INCUS satellites are planned to scan storms for at least two years. Two of the satellites will be positioned 30 seconds apart from each other while the final satellite will be 90 seconds behind the second satellite. By spacing them out in such a manner the images and data sent back to earth will be able to show vigorous strong motions and broader weaker motions in succession, Rasmussen said.

Seventy different experts from CSU, NASA's Jet Propulsions Laboratory and other networks are working on the project. 

CSU's Susan van der Heever is also working on INCUS and has been recognized as the first woman to lead a NASA Earth Venture Mission. 

Rasmussen said she was confident the research and work being done in Fort Collins at CSU will help Americans see and understand severe storms like never before. 

"Severe weather, really vigorous and severe storms, produce hail tornadoes and flash flooding. All of these pieces rely on us understanding how much of that air and water is moving up in the atmosphere. We currently have no measurements of that from space," Rasmussen said. "This will be the first time we have quantitative measurements of this movement of air from space."

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