Artist's concept of Cloudsat
Artist's concept of Cloudsat. Image courtesy: Graeme L. Stephens

NASA will take a revolutionary, global look at clouds with a new spaceborne radar capable of peering deep into their interior to study their structure, composition and effects on climate.

CloudSat, which will fly in 2003, will use an advanced radar to "slice" through clouds to see their vertical structure, providing a completely new observational capability from space -- current weather satellites can only image the uppermost layers of clouds. CloudSat will be the first satellite to study clouds on a global basis.

"A trio of satellites will provide unprecedented information on how clouds help transfer solar energy to and from our planet's atmosphere," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, associate administrator for Earth Sciences, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. "The data from CloudSat will help us understand changes in the Earth's climate on global, regional and local scales. An important contribution of CloudSat is the way it will fly in formation with the Earth Observing System-PM platform and the PICASSO-CENA satellites."

PICASSO-CENA, a cooperative mission between NASA and France, will study the role of transparent, thin clouds and aerosols, small atmospheric particles, and their effect on solar-energy transfer.

CloudSat's cloud-profiling radar capability will allow scientists to study the three-dimensional structure of most clouds important to weather and climate. This capability complements an instrument aboard PICASSO-CENA, which will observe the vertical structure of thin clouds and aerosols. These two missions will provide critically needed satellite measurements that will help researchers understand how the Earth's solar energy and climate interact on a global scale.

CloudSat data also will complement the Earth Observing System-PM satellite, which will collect data on the dynamics of Earth's atmosphere, and the Triana mission, both to be launched in 2000.

Dr. Graeme Stephens of Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, CO, will be principal investigator of the CloudSat mission. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, will manage the international mission, which will include participation from the United States, Canada, Germany and Japan.

The estimated cost of the CloudSat mission is $135 million. NASA's contribution will be approximately $111 million, with additional funding provided by the Canadian Space Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Air Force. The Canadian Space Agency also is developing key radar components and contributing scientific expertise. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, CO, will build the CloudSat spacecraft.

The CloudSat mission continues the strong commitment to Earth Systems Science undertaken by NASA's Office of Earth Science, which oversees a long-term, coordinated research enterprise designed to study the Earth as a global environmental system. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.

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