CloudSat, a satellite mission conceived by Colorado State University scientist Graeme Stephens, will celebrate its first anniversary on Saturday as the world’s most sensitive cloud-profiling radar in orbit.
Since launching 438 miles above Earth on April 28, 2006, CloudSat has made 5,307 orbits around the Earth, snapped 162 million vertical profiles of clouds and distributed more than 6 terabytes of data to the international science community, according to the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere, or CIRA, which is based at Colorado State and is responsible for the satellite’s data collection.
In this mission, Stephens, a University Distinguished Professor in atmospheric science, provides the scientific guidance and is responsible for the mission’s success while NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages and implements the mission. CloudSat is one of only three principal investigator-led Earth science missions launched or about to be launched by NASA and is one of the very few Earth missions that has had such university leadership.
Other partners include Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., which built the spacecraft for the CloudSat mission, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Air Force and the Canadian Space Agency.
CloudSat is the first radar to look vertically at the characteristics of clouds, particularly water and ice content that could someday help scientists better predict weather patterns and climate changes. Researchers around the world will benefit from the radar’s data about cloud processes. In addition to improving weather forecasting, the data will help scientists understand how clouds determine Earth’s energy balance, thus increasing the accuracy of severe storm warnings, improving water resource management and developing more advanced radar technology.
During the expected 22-month duration of the mission, CIRA will process and store about 12 terabytes of data. A terabyte is one million megabytes – a megabyte has enough disk storage to hold about 20,000 average-sized e-mail messages.
The CloudSat spacecraft is flying in orbital formation as part of a constellation of satellites, including NASA’s Aqua and Aura satellites, the French Space Agency (CNES) PARASOL satellite and the NASA-CNES CALIPSO satellite. This is the first time that five research satellites are flying together in formation.