CloudSat is a mission that studies the effects of clouds on climate and weather. With capabilities 1,000 times more sensitive than typical weather radar, CloudSat uses millimeter-wavelength radar to measure the altitude and properties of clouds.CloudSat gives scientists a never-before-seen 3-D perspective of Earth’s clouds that answers questions about how they form, evolve and affect our weather, climate and freshwater supply. This information is providing the first global measurements of cloud properties that will help scientists compile a database of cloud measurements, aiding in global climate and weather prediction models.
Ball Aerospace built the CloudSat spacecraft and tested and integrated the Cloud Profiling Radar payload, built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Other hardware contributions from the Canadian Space Agency were also tested and integrated by Ball Aerospace.
CloudSat launched with CALIPSO into a polar orbit at an altitude of 438 miles (705 km). Both are part of a constellation of spacecraft called the "A-Train," including Aqua, Aura and PARASOL, dedicated to studying the Earth’s weather and environment. CloudSat and CALIPSO launched April 28, 2006 from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
In 2007, NASA awarded the Ball Aerospace CloudSat team with its Group Achievement Award for outstanding achievement in the design, development, assembly, integration, test, launch, and early orbit operations of the CloudSat spacecraft.
An Award-Winning Solution
In April 2011, after surpassing its design life of three years, CloudSat’s aging batteries began to lose power. Ball implemented an innovative solution that has allowed the spacecraft to continue operating and collect data in daylight-only mode. The CloudSat team at Ball won a NASA Exceptional Public Achievement Award for its mission-saving efforts.
In its out-years, CloudSat has been growing in importance to the international weather community. Some 56 nations are regularly using its science data, and have downloaded over 10 million files, each file representing one orbit’s worth of data.
Both CloudSat and CALIPSO satellites have been on orbit for eight years. More than 500 peer-reviewed scientific papers have been written based on CloudSat data; CALIPSO has more than 1000 to date. Both missions were built on cost-capped budgets for the Earth System Science Pathfinder Program and have delivered high value science far exceeding mission design life.