A spaceborne lidar instrument that fired more laser pulses than any previous orbiting instrument has ended its operations on the International Space Station, after a successful 33-month mission.
NASA’s Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) lidar provided measurements of the vertical structure of clouds and aerosols, volcanic eruptions, man-made pollution in China and India, smoke from wildfires in North America and dust storms in the Middle East.
The CATS measurements enabled more accurate aerosol modeling and forecasting and improved tracking and forecasting of volcanic plumes and associated costly aviation hazards.
CATS was funded by the International Space Station Program to advance the use of the orbiting laboratory as a platform for Earth science research. CATS helped pave the way for future low-cost missions to the station and advanced laser technology designed to measure clouds and aerosols.
Matt McGill, CATS principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland stated “The CATS project was a spectacular opportunity to provide first-of-its-kind science from the space station. CATS was an amazing combination of enterprising science pathfinder, technology demonstration, and programmatic forcing function. ” “The CATS payload operated for more than 200 billion laser pulses – an unprecedented achievement for a spaceborne lidar,” Matt McGill further added.
Launched on Jan. 10, 2015, CATS was designed to operate at least six months. On Oct. 30, 2017, the onboard power and data system stopped working and could not be resuscitated.
“CATS provided the opportunity to utilize a small team and streamlined process to highlight that it is possible to build and deliver a low-cost instrument that still provides critical, cutting-edge science measurements,” said McGill.
CATS has contributed major things in technology and science: like first high repetition-rate, photon-counting lidar in space. It was the first NASA-developed payload for the Japanese Experiment Module – Exposed Facility (JEM-EF) on the space station. It was the first space-based lidar to provide data products in near real time, with a latency of fewer than six hours, to enable more accurate aerosol modeling and forecasting. CATS improved tracking and forecasting of volcanic plumes, which are well-known and costly aviation hazards. It also improved the understanding of aerosol proximity to clouds, which is critically important to predicting the effects of cloud-aerosol interaction on the Earth’s climate system