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The cloud layer plays a key role in Earth’s climate, absorbing and reflecting part of the Sun’s radiation back into space. But clouds also play an opposite role, trapping a fraction of the heat emitted from the planet’s surface in the form of infrared radiation.
The EarthCARE satellite (Earth Cloud, Aerosol and Radiation Explorer) is designed to analyse these two hard-to-study phenomena with unprecedented precision. From its vantage point in low-Earth polar orbit inclined to enable observations of any point on the globe, EarthCARE will collect data to generate 3D maps of the cloud layer and aerosols, while measuring exactly how much solar and Earth radiation they reflect. With its nine-day revisit rate, the satellite will be able to acquire comparative time-series of data over several years.
Science teams are eagerly awaiting the results from this sixth ESA Earth Explorer mission to refine their meteorological models and learn more about the processes driving global warming and its consequences.
EarthCARE is carrying two active instruments: ATLID (Atmospheric Lidar) and CPR (Cloud Profiling Radar), supplied by the Japan Aerospace eXploration Agency (JAXA). ATLID employs a laser beam pointing down vertically beneath the satellite to remote-sense the altitude of the cloud layer, while CPR is a precision Doppler radar able to determine cloud composition. CPR’s large 2.5-metre antenna gives the satellite its unique profile.
The payload also includes two passive instruments, MSI (Multi-Spectral Imager) and BBR (Broad-Band Radiometer), which will characterize the cloud layer and aerosols in different frequency bands and sense radiation reflected back into space.