CATS - New Remote-Sensing Instrument to Blaze a Trail on the International Space Station

  • Released Monday, September 8, 2014

The Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS), a new instrument that will measure the character and worldwide distribution of the tiny particles that make up haze, dust, air pollutants, and smoke, will do more than gather data once it's deployed on the International Space Station in December.

Animation - CATS: How it Works

Internal to the laser, special optical crystals are used to generate 3 wavelengths of light by adding the energy of two photons, to make a single new photon. The final output beam is made up of all three wavelengths and these photons are transmitted in groups, towards the atmosphere, at the speed of light. As photons encounter clouds or particles, scattering of the laser beam occurs. Very few of the photons scatter directly back to the optical telescope, but the ones that return, are collected and counted by sensitive detectors and electronics. By timing the difference between emission and detection, the precise altitude of the particles can be determined.

Animation - CATS Data Swath

CATS will determine the height, thickness and the extent of smoke, dust particles, and volcanic ash in our atmosphere. Improving cloud data will allow scientist to create more accurate climate models, which in turn, will improve air quality forecast and health risk alerts.


Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Release date

This page was originally published on Monday, September 8, 2014.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, May 3, 2023 at 1:50 PM EDT.


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This visualization can be found in the following series:


This visualization originally appeared on the following tapes:
  • CATS in Space Keep Eyes on Atmosphere (ID: 2014068)
    Friday, November 14, 2014 at 5:00AM
    Produced by - Jesse Allen (Raytheon)