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  • Satellite Evolution Group

EarthCARE, when a satellite sheds light on the cloudsInbox

EarthCARE at Airbus Integrated Technology Centre’s clean room in Friedrichshafen, Germany - Copyright Airbus

EarthCARE (Earth Clouds, Aerosols and Radiation Explorer) is the sixth Earth Explorer  mission in the European Space Agency’s Living Planet programme. As industrial prime  contractor Airbus is responsible for the development and manufacture of this Earth  observation satellite. Airbus is also prime contractor for ATLID, the lidar instrument, and for  MSI, a multi spectrometer instrument, both carried by EarthCARE. 

The impact of climate change is visible every day on our planet. One of the starkest changes  we are experiencing is increasing temperatures. Although temperature increases can be  analysed on the ground, satellite information provides a valuable, complementary source of  data that helps refine prediction models. A better understanding of how the different elements  that impact our climate interact together is vital. The study of clouds and aerosols - tiny  atmospheric particles - is one of them, since clouds are a key regulator of the Earth’s average  temperature. 

A joint venture between Europe (ESA) and Japan (JAXA), EarthCARE will quantify the role  that clouds and aerosols play in heating and cooling Earth’s atmosphere. Among other things,  it will draw up vertical profiles of natural and man-made aerosols. It will register the distribution  of water and ice and their transport by clouds and investigate the interrelationships between  clouds and precipitation and their effects on radiation. It will derive profiles of atmospheric  heating and cooling. 

EarthCARE is the largest and most complex Earth Explorer to date. It will carry four scientific  instruments: a lidar (ATLID) and a radar (CPR supplied by JAXA) to measure the vertical  distribution of clouds and aerosols, an imager (MSI) to collect cloud and aerosol information  across the satellite ground track and a broadband radiometer (BBR) for measuring outgoing  reflected solar and emitted thermal energy at the top of the atmosphere. 

Once in orbit, EarthCARE will circle Earth in a Sun-synchronous polar orbit crossing the  equator in the early afternoon to optimise daylight conditions. The mission will measure the  vertical structure and horizontal distribution of cloud and aerosol fields, together with the levels  of outgoing radiation. 

The computer models being developed will allow more accurate representations of the heating  or cooling process happening on our planet. The data will also help scientists to learn more  on the interrelationships between clouds and rainfall, their effects on radiation and the balance  between clouds’ cooling and warming influences. 

With the new EarthCARE mission, Airbus continues to support scientists to better understand  our climate by providing valuable data that will improve current models for climate prediction.  Following the Aeolus mission, Airbus keeps pioneering cutting-edge technologies i.e. with ATLID, the atmospheric lidar instrument, making the company a worldwide specialist in  spaceborne lidar to protect the planet.

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