Part of NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder program, Cloud-Aerosol LIDAR and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) is a mission dedicated to studying the impact that clouds and aerosols have on the Earth’s climate. Scientists are using data from CALIPSO to construct three-dimensional models of the atmosphere that improve our ability to predict future climate change.
CALIPSO is part of a constellation of spacecraft called the "A-Train," including Aqua, Aura and PARASOL, dedicated to studying the Earth’s weather and environment. CALIPSO launched with Ball Aerospace-built CloudSat on April 28, 2006 from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Ball Aerospace built the LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and wide-field camera instruments, the communications equipment, and integrated the payload for the CALIPSO program.
The LIDAR scans the atmosphere with green and infrared laser light and detects backscatter from clouds and aerosols. The wide-field visible light camera and a three-color infrared imaging radiometer are part of the payload system and record additional information about clouds and aerosols. The payload is aboard the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES’s) Proteus spacecraft built by Alcatel Space Industries.
The Ball Aerospace CALIPSO team also received a group acheivement award from NASA in 2007.
Originally designed for a program life of three years, CALIPSO has traveled more than 1.2 billion miles, orbited the Earth 42,900 times, and has produced more than 92 terabytes of data in eight years on orbit. The CALIPSO LIDAR instrument registered firing over three billion laser shots on its redundant laser. The primary laser fired 1.6 billion shots before it was shut down. More than 1000 peer-reviewed scientific papers have been written based on CALIPSO data.
Both CALIPSO and CloudSat were built on cost-capped budgets for NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder Program and have delivered high value science far exceeding mission design life.