Shoe Box Sized Satellites Will Probe Clouds, Discover More About Their Role in Climate Change

Yoav Schechner, an expert in computer vision and computed tomography from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and Ilan Koren, an expert in cloud and rain physics from the Weizmann Institute of Science, have collaborated to launch ten shoe box-sized satellites into orbit with the objective of probing the clouds and discovering more about the role they play in climate creation and change. The project, called CloudCT, is expected to launch in the next few years and was recently awarded a 14 million euro (~$16 million US) grant from the European Research Council (ERC) Synergy program.

The German team leader is Klaus Schilling from Universität Würzburg, an expert in the field of small satellite formation technology. Schilling states that the size of the satellites – each weighing around 3 kg – and the precision required from such a multi-satellite system, will bring on new challenges in miniaturization, coordination, and autonomous reaction capabilities.

The idea for the technology was inspired by 3D medical imaging and will be carried out much like a CT scan, simultaneously from many directions around and above the clouds.

“We are using human health as guidance for the planet’s health,” Schechner said in a statement.

The team is hoping the satellites could help resolve some of the uncertainties that that limit current atmospheric modeling and climate prediction.

“Satellites study large cloud structures, but lack the resolution to observe small clouds,” said Koren in a statement. “Although they are small, such clouds temper the climate, on the one hand, and on the other, they may be very sensitive to climate change. That is why there is a critical need to measure these small clouds properly – to understand their nature and their interplay with changing environmental conditions.”