Earth Observation Mission News
CloudSat exits the “A-Train”
23 February 2018
Mission managers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, this week lowered the orbit of the nearly 12-year-old CloudSat satellite following the loss of one of its reaction wheels, which control its orientation in orbit. While CloudSat's science mission will continue, it will no longer fly as part of the Afternoon Constellation, or A-Train -- six Earth-monitoring satellites that fly in a coordinated orbit to advance our understanding of how Earth functions as a system.
CloudSat launched in 2006 to improve understanding of the role clouds play in our climate system. It joined the A-Train about a month later. In April 2011, the spacecraft experienced a technical issue affecting the ability of the battery to provide enough current to power all spacecraft systems during the time in each orbit when the spacecraft is on the dark side of the planet and the spacecraft's solar panels are not illuminated. In response, spacecraft engineers at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, developed a new operational mode for CloudSat that enabled it to continue science operations, but only during the part of each orbit when the spacecraft is in sunlight.
Image credit: Graeme L. Stephens - Artist's illustration of NASA's Cloudsat satellite.