NASA’s Cloud-Watching Satellite Says Goodbye After 17 Years.


NASA’s lidar satellite mission, CALIPSO, came to an end in August after 17 years of operation. The joint mission between NASA and the French National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) had depleted its fuel reserves and was no longer capable of generating sufficient power to operate its science instruments. CALIPSO was equipped with an active lidar instrument, which used beams of energy to measure the reflections off clouds and aerosols in Earth’s atmosphere. The mission provided scientists with unique observations and 3D perspectives of cloud and aerosol formation, and its data was used to alert aviators to avoid flying into volcanic ash plumes.

CALIPSO launched in April 2006 alongside the CloudSat satellite, which used radar to probe Earth’s atmosphere. Both satellites were placed in Sun-synchronous orbits and provided simultaneous observations of the vertical structure of the atmosphere. They measured the altitude of clouds and airborne particles, such as dust and ash, providing valuable information for scientists. One of CALIPSO’s important applications was detecting volcanic ash plumes, which were used to alert and direct aviators to avoid flying into hazardous areas.

Dave Winker, the principal investigator for CALIPSO, expressed a sense of accomplishment for the successful operation of the mission over the past 17 years. The mission provided valuable data and contributed to our understanding of Earth’s atmosphere.

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