1965 -- Radio Occultation (RO) first used to study Mars
1988 -- First suggestion to use this method to study Earth's atmosphere
1995-1997 -- MicroLab-1 provides first RO mission to Earth
2001 -- FORMOSAT-3/COSMIC program begins
2006 -- COSMIC satellites launched
2011 -- COSMIC program concludes
The Future of COSMIC
COSMIC's primary mission is to prove that using radio occultation and constellations of satellites provides useful data about our atmosphere [source: Anthes]. Already, data from the mission has been used to predict tropical storms more accurately. In 2006, Tropical Storm Ernesto formed in the Atlantic Ocean. Traditional weather prediction models failed to predict the storm's formation, but by adding COSMIC data to the model, prediction's about the storm's formation were very similar to what was actually observed [source: Anthes].
Perhaps even more important is how it can help us understand climate change. As we described earlier, radio occultation measurements create vertical profiles of the atmosphere. Because these measurements do not rely on any specific technology to be interpreted, they are ideal for long-term comparison. On the down side, difficulties separating the different effects of temperature, pressure and humidity limit the usefulness of some of the data below 5 miles (8 kilometers) and above 15 miles (25 kilometers) for climate research [source: Anthes].
Basically, COSMIC is taking a concept beyond the idea stage and showing that this technology can provide useful results. UCAR organizes an annual workshop to allow scientists to share information and learn more about what the data can be used for. The technology and method is not new, but actually having this kind of data available on a large scale is.
COSMIC's two data centers are responsible for providing the information (free of charge) to the international scientific community. As of April 2010, there were over 1,100 users from 54 countries [source: Schreiner]. Scientists use this data to improve their research and learn how to incorporate this type of information into their work more accurately.
Have some atmospheric research you'd like to use the data for? Registration is free on the CDAAC Web site, though you will have to let them know how you're going to use the information.
COSMIC is funded through 2011, with a possibility of continued funding after that [source: Schreiner]. Once the mission concludes, it's not entirely certain what, if anything, will replace it. UCAR and NSPO are both hoping to gain support for a sustained program with two to four times as many satellites doing the same thing, but providing much more complete coverage than is possible with just six satellites. If these hopes are realized, weather prediction could become so accurate that people might just have to find something besides the local forecast to joke about.
For more information on satellites, weather prediction and more, visit the links on the next page.