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BOULDER, Colo., July 25 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Scientists around the world can now glimpse inside Earth's storms with the instruments aboard two Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. Earth-observation missions launched earlier this year.
The CloudSat and CALIPSO satellites launched on April 28 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California have now completed commissioning activities. Ball Aerospace built the spacecraft bus for CloudSat, and the payload of scientific instruments that includes the CALIOP LIDAR and Wide-Field Camera (WFC) for CALIPSO. Both missions are designed to improve our understanding of Earth's weather, climate, and air quality by revealing 3-D details of clouds and the hidden characteristics of aerosols.
CloudSat transitioned to its operational mode on June 2 , when the CloudProfiling Radar was activated. On June 6 , NASA released the first pictures returned from CloudSat, showing a storm over the North Sea in the North Atlantic approaching Greenland . Since then, the satellite's scanning radar system has continued performing flawlessly. CloudSat carries a millimeter wavelength Cloud-Profiling Radar which is more than 1,000 times more sensitive than typical weather radar.
CALIPSO's instruments were turned on sequentially with the first infrared images from its Infrared Imaging Radiometer arriving on May 11 , followed by visible images from the WFC on May 18 . The LIDAR, made up of a laser transmitter and a three-channel receiver, were aligned on June 7 . Following the payload's downlink and delivery of that data, NASA's Langley Research Center released the first LIDAR science images, which illustrate the layering of the atmosphere. Highlights of the image include a volcanic plume over the equator near the Philippines and a large polar stratospheric cloud above Antarctica. Scientists hope to use data from CALIPSO to construct three-dimensional models of the atmosphere that will improve our ability to predict future climate change, understand the role of clouds and aerosols in weather, and study how long-range transport of pollutants affects air quality.
Following launch, CloudSat and CALIPSO joined an orbital formation known as the "A-Train." The constellation currently includes Aqua, Aura, and PARASOL, delivering a combined set of measurements of the Earth's environment, with OCO still to follow. The mission is part of NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder program, which fosters innovative, low-cost Earth-observation missions designed to study the Earth as a global environmental system.