NASA’s Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) team designed and built a new cloud and aerosol measurement instrument. The instrument will measure clouds, volcanic ash plumes, and other aerosols from aboard the International Space Station for up to three years. CATS will be the first to use three-wavelength laser technology to measure aerosols in order to improve the accuracy of climate change models.

Beth Paquette, Andrew Kupchock, and Stan Scott (left to right) work on transceiver alignment. (NASA)

But, there was a challenge. CATS is also a technology experiment to show innovative science can be done at a low cost with quick turnaround. The experiment had limited funds and had to be built in two years — a much shorter timeline and smaller budget compared to typical spaceborne Earth-observation satellites. Classified as a technology experiment, not a mission, CATS is an addendum to the space station and is operated with a smaller budget and team.

The experiment is NASA Goddard’s first Earth science instrument to be installed on the space station. With the condensed budget, timeline, and team, the CATS experiment is forging a pathway to a low-cost, streamlined approach to developing station science payloads that provide critical scientific data.