The Atmosphere Observing System (AOS) will provide measurements that are critical for clarifying aerosol and cloud processes that drive extreme weather and climate change. A dedicated team from several NASA facilities and international partner organizations will develop instruments, build and launch spacecraft, coordinate suborbital instruments and operate the new observing system. AOS is one component of the Earth System Observatory designed by NASA to provide key information to guide efforts related to climate change, natural hazard mitigation, fighting forest fires, and improving real-time agricultural processes. AOS plans are under consideration by NASA and the international partner governments.

Mission Timeline

A high-level overview of the AOS mission timeline is presented here. The AOS mission was preceded by the Aerosols, Cloud, Convection and Precipitation (ACCP) Study. The nominal phases shown apply to AOS satellites in an inclined orbit (AOS-I1 and AOS-I2). The timing of mission phases associated with the polar AOS satellite (AOS-P1) are noted in italics.


View instrument measurements »
AOS will collect measurements of aerosols, clouds, convection and precipitation using a variety of instruments in various locations from Earth orbiting satellites and suborbital platforms. Three satellites will work together to provide these data. One satellite traveling in a polar orbit (AOS-P1) - passing over both poles with each satellite pass - and two satellites traveling in a 55° inclined orbit (AOS-I1 and AOS I2). A mix of both the active and passive sensing, from the microwave to the ultra-violet, providing a comprehensive view of how these systems work and interact with each other. The spacecraft will carry a core set of instrument types:
Ka + W Doppler Radar – couples W-band Doppler (95 gigahertz, or GHz) and Ka-band Doppler (26.5 to 40 GHz range). Doppler radar measures clouds, precipitation, light-to-moderate convection, and snowfall.
Microwave Radiometer – atmospheric temperature, humidity, cloud ice ice-phase precipitation
High Spectral Resolution Lidar (HSRL) Lidar - measures true aerosol backscatter and extinction. HSRL: 532 nm; Backscatter: 1064 nm
Polarimeter – clouds, aerosols
Thermal Imaging Radar (TIR) Spectrometer – ice particle size, cloud top height, cloud longwave emission, water vapor profiles
UV-VIS Spectrometer – clouds, aerosols
W, Ku Doppler Radar – couples W-band Doppler (95 GHz) and Ku-band Doppler (12 to 18 GHz range). Doppler radar measures precipitation, convective storms, and moderate to heavy snowfall.
Camera Suite – tracks cloud tops and aerosol plumes; tracks cloud surface motion and the heights and velocities of clouds
Backscatter Lidar (clouds and aerosol transport) - measures attenuated aerosol backscatter. Backscatter: 1064 nm, 532 nm
Microwave Radiometer – atmospheric temperature, humidity, cloud ice ice-phase precipitation
Polarimeter – measures the properties of aerosols and the characteristics of clouds near the tops of the clouds
Camera suite – tracks cloud tops and aerosol plumes; tracks cloud surface motion and the heights and velocities of clouds

NASA Earth System Observatory

Areas of focus for core of the Earth System Observatory include:

Aerosols: Answering the critical question of how aerosols affect the global energy balance, a key source of uncertainty in predicting climate change.

Clouds, Convection, and Precipitation: Tackling the largest sources of uncertainty in future projections of climate change, as well as improved understanding and prediction of convective storms and severe weather.

Mass Change: Providing drought assessment and forecasting, associated planning for water use for agriculture, as well as supporting natural hazard response.

Surface Biology and Geology: Understanding climate changes that impact food and agriculture, habitation, and natural resources, by answering open questions about the fluxes of carbon, water, nutrients, and energy within and between ecosystems and the atmosphere, the ocean, and the Earth.

Surface Deformation and Change: Quantifying models of sea-level and landscape change driven by climate change, hazard forecasts, and disaster impact assessments, including dynamics of earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, glaciers, groundwater, and Earth's interior.

Once the core missions of the Earth System Observatory (AOS, Mass Change, Surface Biology and Geology and Surface Deformation and Change) are established, NASA will augment the core with a new class of mission, the Earth Explorers, to make additional high-priority observations and encourage innovative solutions through competitive selection at the mission level.

Launch vehicles, spacecraft buses and suborbital campaigns.
Mission OPS and ground systems
Mission Ops & Ground Systems (pre-decisional). An example of typical NASA earth science mission elements including launch, space, ground, and science data segments. These work together to control earth-orbiting satellites, upload / download information, and ensure that high-quality data are available to the science community. Notional and subject to change pending future competition.
Satellite orbits
Cover page
Thriving on Our Changing Planet A Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation from Space (2018). The Earth System Observatory follows recommendations from the 2017 Earth Science Decadal Survey conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which lays out recommendations for ambitious but critically necessary research and observations.
Cover page