Pegasus rocket launches from airplane off Central Florida coast

Rocket dropped from 39,000 feet off Daytona Beach

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA has launched eight mini-satellites to measure surface wind deep in the heart of hurricanes.

[WATCH LIVE: Coverage from NASA TV in video player above]

The plane carrying the satellites took off shortly after sunrise Thursday from Cape Canaveral.

An hour later, the co-pilot pushed the button that released the Pegasus rocket and attached satellites 39,000 feet above the Atlantic, 100 miles east of Daytona Beach. The Pegasus fired five seconds later, propelling the satellites toward orbit.

The $157 million Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System is meant to improve hurricane forecasting. The CYGNSS (SIG-nis) satellites have GPS navigation receivers to measure the surface roughness of oceans, letting scientists calculate wind speed and storm intensity.

The spacecraft, each of which is 64 pounds, with a 5-foot wingspan, can peer through rain swirling in a hurricane, into the eye, or core.

A first launch attempt on Monday was scrubbed by a problem with the hydraulic system that releases the Pegasus from the L-1011 aircraft.

Wednesday's attempt was canceled "due to a flight parameter data issue," NASA said. New flight parameter data was uploaded to the CYGNSS spacecraft, correcting an issue discovered during testing on Tuesday, according to NASA.

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