Part of NASA's fleet of weather- and climate-tracking satellites, CloudSat uses advanced radar to examine the inner structure of clouds, helping researchers better understand how severe tropical cyclones as well as climate changes related to clouds occur.

In August 2010, CloudSat embarked on a new mission phase to study the genesis and patterns of tropical cyclones. Since its launch in 2006, CloudSat has played an instrumental role in new techniques for estimating the intensity of hurricanes from space, in addition to producing data about links between pollution and rainfall.

Mission Events

June 2006: In a series of maneuvers, CloudSat and CALIPSO (Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations) join three satellites already in orbit (Aqua, PARASOL, and Aura) to form a constellation of weather- and climate-tracking satellites known as the A-Train.

August 2010: CloudSat, along with NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) and Aqua satellite, begins flights to study tropical cyclones in an effort to better predict when and how hurricanes form. The new mission, called the Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes mission, or GRIP, conducts field studies for 6 weeks starting on August 15, 2010.

February 2018: CloudSat performs two thruster burns to exit the A-Train following the loss of one of its reaction wheels, which control its orientation in orbit, but its science mission will continue.

Key Discoveries

  • CloudSat has revealed how often the clouds above Earth rain and snow. This is information that we did not know before, principally because many regions on Earth are not instrumented on the ground to obtain this information, such as over the oceans and over sparsely-populated land areas such as the polar regions.
  • CloudSat has revealed how much ice and water are contained in clouds globally.
  • CloudSat has determined how clouds heat or cool the atmosphere.
  • CloudSat has allowed scientists to understand how often and how quickly rain develops in clouds.
  • CloudSat has provided the first quantitative estimate of global snowfall.
  • CloudSat has given scientists a deeper understanding of how pollution, volcanic emissions and other atmospheric 'aerosols' interact with clouds to affect precipitation and cloud lifetime.
  • CloudSat has provided unique insight into the effect of cloudiness on the acceleration of polar and Greenland ice melting.

Scientific Instrument(s)

- Cloud-profiling radar