Search Langley


News Releases

Text Size

Kathy Barnstorff
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
(757) 864-9886/344-8511

Christopher P. Rink
(757) 344-7711

NASA Launches Satellites for Weather, Climate, Air Quality Studies

Two dozen researchers and their families broke out into applause before dawn this morning at NASA's Langley Research Center as they watched more than a decade of work launch into space from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

CALIPSO -- Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations -- and CloudSat thundered skyward at 6:02 a.m. EDT atop a Boeing Delta II rocket. The two satellites will eventually circle approximately 438 miles above Earth in a sun-synchronous polar orbit, which means they will always cross the equator at the same local time. Their technologies will enable scientists to study how clouds and aerosols form, evolve and interact.

"It's been a long wait, a long week," said CALIPSO Principal Investigator David Winker of NASA Langley in reference to the seven day launch delay. "The team is really happy to have a successful launch. It put us in the right orbit. We're right where we want to be and the satellite is in good working order."

"Today we have taken a giant step forward in our ability to study the global atmosphere," added Winker. "In the years to come, we expect these missions to spark many new insights into the workings of Earth's climate and improve our abilities to forecast weather and predict climate change."

"Clouds are a critical but poorly understood element of our climate," said Graeme Stephens, CloudSat principal investigator and a professor at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo. "They shape the energy distribution of our climate system and our planet's massive water cycle, which delivers the freshwater we drink that sustains all life."

Each spacecraft will transmit pulses of energy and measure the portion of the pulses scattered back to the satellite. CALIPSO's polarization lidar can detect aerosol particles and distinguish between aerosol and cloud particles. Lidar, similar in principle to radar, uses reflected light to determine the characteristics of the target area. CloudSat's Cloud-Profiling Radar is more than 1,000 times more sensitive than typical weather radar. It can detect clouds and distinguish between cloud particles and precipitation.

Sixty-two minutes after liftoff, CALIPSO separated from the rocket's second stage. CloudSat followed 35 minutes later. Ground controllers successfully acquired signals from both spacecraft, and initial telemetry reports show both in excellent health. Over the next six weeks, system and instrument checks will be performed, and the satellites will maneuver into their final orbits.

The satellites will fly in formation as members of NASA's "A-Train" constellation, which also includes NASA's Aqua and Aura satellites and a French satellite known as PARASOL, for Polarization and Anisotropy of Reflectances for Atmospheric Sciences coupled with Observations from a Lidar. The satellite data will be more useful when combined, providing insights into the global distribution and evolution of clouds to improve weather forecasting and climate prediction. For more information about CALIPSO and CloudSat, visit:

CALIPSO is a collaboration between NASA and France's Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES). NASA Langley is leading the CALIPSO mission and providing overall project management, systems engineering, and payload mission operations. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., provides support for system engineering, project and program management. CNES is providing a PROTEUS spacecraft developed by Alcatel Space, a radiometer instrument, and spacecraft mission operations. Hampton University is providing scientific contributions and managing the outreach program. Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo., developed the lidar and on-board visible camera.

CloudSat is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. JPL also developed the radar instrument with hardware contributions from the Canadian Space Agency. Colorado State University provides scientific leadership and science data processing and distribution. Ball Aerospace designed and built the spacecraft. The U.S. Air Force and U.S. Department of Energy contributed resources. U.S. and international universities and research centers support the mission science team.

NASA's Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., procured the mission's launch and provided the management for the mission’s launch service.


- end -

text-only version of this release