CloudSat is a satellite experiment designed to measure the vertical structure of clouds from space. The expected launch of CloudSat is planned for 2004, and once launched, CloudSat will orbit in formation as part of a constellation of satellites (the A-Train) that includes NASA's Aqua and Aura satellites, a NASA–CNES lidar satellite (CALIPSO), and a CNES satellite carrying a polarimeter (PARASOL). A unique feature that CloudSat brings to this constellation is the ability to fly a precise orbit enabling the fields of view of the CloudSat radar to be overlapped with the CALIPSO lidar footprint and the other measurements of the constellation. The precision and near simultaneity of this overlap creates a unique multisatellite observing system for studying the atmospheric processes essential to the hydrological cycle.

The vertical profiles of cloud properties provided by CloudSat on the global scale fill a critical gap in the investigation of feedback mechanisms linking clouds to climate. Measuring these profiles requires a combination of active and passive instruments, and this will be achieved by combining the radar data of CloudSat with data from other active and passive sensors of the constellation. This paper describes the underpinning science and general overview of the mission, provides some idea of the expected products and anticipated application of these products, and the potential capability of the A-Train for cloud observations. Notably, the CloudSat mission is expected to stimulate new areas of research on clouds. The mission also provides an important opportunity to demonstrate active sensor technology for future scientific and tactical applications. The CloudSat mission is a partnership between NASA's JPL, the Canadian Space Agency, Colorado State University, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

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Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California

Department of Meteorology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom

NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Columbia, New York

Naval Research Laboratory, Monterey, California