CloudSat Frictionless Test Platform

Olin-NASA Research Group > Projects > Cloud CubeSat

What is the CloudSat?

The CloudSat is a CubeSat program being developed by Vanderlei Martins of the University of Maryland - Baltimore County (UMBC) Physics Department in collaboration with the NASA GSFC Climate and Radiation Branch. The CloudSat will take photographs of the vertical profile of clouds, in order to study cloud microphysics and thermodynamic properties.

Currently, these images are obtained by flying small aircraft through the cloud to collect data. Changing altitude is slow, so it is difficult to look at the whole cloud at a given stage of development. A satellite in a low orbit can evaluate the entire height of the cloud at once. The CloudSat will be a proof of concept for this application.

Image from http://umbc.edu

The amount of equipment needed for this experiment would not fit in a regular CubeSat, so instead UMBC opted for a triple CubeSat - a 10cm x 10cm x 30cm structure weighing up to 3kg.

The cameras on the CloudSat will take their best images if the sun is behind the satellite. In addition, the solar panels on the back of the satellite need to be facing the sun. The Attitude Control System determines where the sun is, and uses magnetorquers to turn the CloudSat so that the solar panels are facing the sun and the cameras are facing the Earth. With the sun directly behind the cameras, images taken will have good lighting so they are easier to analyze.