TEMPEST-D to Demonstrate Low-Cost Satellite Concept to Study Precipitation Processes

A CubeSat mission led by Colorado State University Professor Steven Reising was successfully launched as part of the payload of the May 21 cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. The TEMPEST-D (Temporal Experiment for Storms and Tropical Systems Demonstration) mission was selected by NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder program as a demonstration project for the next generation of Earth-observing technologies, and is managed by NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office (ESTO).

The CSU team, led by Reising and including CSU co-investigators V. Chandrasekaran and Christian Kummerow, worked with partners at the NASA/Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Blue Canyon Technologies to develop and build a miniaturized millimeter-frequency radiometer to provide new observations of cloud and precipitation processes. A constellation of CubeSats carrying these compact radiometers is envisioned, collecting data on the time-dependent evolution of storms and improving significantly over the current three-hour revisit time for low-Earth-orbit weather satellites.

“With a train-like constellation of TEMPEST-like CubeSats, we’d be able to take time samples every five to 10 minutes to see how a storm develops,” said Reising.

The TEMPEST-D mission is designed to test the radiometer’s calibration against existing larger-scale satellite sensors, and the spacecraft’s ability to control altitude and its position within a constellation.

Visualization of the CubeSat constellation strategy to obtain “snapshots” of the same storm, every five minutes. Graphic courtesy JPL

Visualization of the CubeSat constellation strategy to obtain “snapshots” of the same storm, every five minutes. Graphic courtesy JPL


Reising is also leading the TWICE (Tropospheric Water Vapor and Cloud ICE) project, supported through NASA’s Instrument Incubator program, to develop a miniaturized millimeter- and submillimeter-wave radiometer that, like TEMPEST-D, can be deployed in a 6U CubeSat. TWICE is designed to collect observations at a range of frequencies sensitive to upper tropospheric water vapor profiles, temperature profiles, and ice particle size distribution in clouds. These data are critically needed to improve knowledge of the role of ice clouds in Earth’s climate, precipitation, and cloud processes. Similar to the TEMPEST-D concept, a constellation of CubeSats carrying the TWICE radiometers would provide global observations from low Earth orbit. The NASA/Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Northrop Grumman Corporation are partners on TWICE.


Colleagues and collaborators at CSU for over a decade, Reising and Chandrasekaran first met through their mutual involvement in CASA, the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere, a consortium of university, industry, government, and weather data users established in 2003. Chandrasekaran serves as Deputy Director of Research for CASA and provides leadership for the sensing research thrust, contributing to many of the enabling radar technologies deployed in the Distributed Collaborative Adaptive Sensing (DCAS) networks pioneered by the Center.

The DCAS concept is aimed at overcoming the limitations of current weather forecasting and warning systems, which use large, high-power, long-range radars that undersample conditions in the lower parts of the atmosphere due to the Earth’s curvature, by deploying low-cost networks of small, short-range Doppler radars. The networked radars adapt their sensing modes to respond to and zero in on rapidly-changing weather hazards, providing real-time, high-resolution observations geared to public safety and commerce. The prototype test beds in Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, and the research to operations testbed in  Dallas-Fort Worth have demonstrated the potential for earlier tornado warning, detection of high wind events, and more precise rainfall and flooding hazard estimates.


Steven Reising is a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Colorado State University. Reising received the Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University, where he was supported by a NASA Earth Systems Science Fellowship. Reising and his group conduct research in a broad range of remote sensing applications, including remote sensing of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans from airborne platforms and small satellites, design and demonstration of radiometer systems based on low-noise MMIC amplifier-based front ends from gigahertz to terahertz frequencies, lidar systems for sensing temperature and winds in the middle and upper atmosphere, lighting-ionosphere interactions and atmospheric electrodynamics. He has been Principal Investigator for projects sponsored by NASA, National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, Office of Naval Research, Naval Research Laboratory, NPOESS Integrated Program Office, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., and the European Space Agency.

V. Chandrasekar is a Colorado State University Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at CSU, and an internationally-recognized expert in weather radar science and technology and radar signal processing. He is particularly known for his pioneering contributions to polarimetric radar observations of the atmosphere, as well as the theory and application of radar networks, for which has been named a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society, the IEEE, the International Union of Radio Science, and the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere, and was awarded the Insignia of Knight, First Class, of the Order of the White Rose of Finland. Chandra and his group conduct research in radar system design, radar network development, digital signal processing, RF communication systems, and related topics including image processing, neural network applications and large scale system simulation. Chandrasekar has been a PI or Co-PI for the Advanced Communication Technology Satellite (ACTS) program at CSU; the DARPA NGI program; the NASA TRMM and GPM missions; the CSU-CHILL National Radar Facility, one of the most advanced meteorological radar systems in the world available for research; and the NSF SEA-POL, the nation’s first ocean-going polarimetric radar. He is a Co-PI and the Deputy Director of the NSF Engineering Research Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere, CASA.

Make the connection

Colorado State University Excels in Spaceborne Remote Sensing

TEMPEST-D is the latest spaceborne remote sensing project to which Colorado State University faculty members in the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering have contributed as principal investigators. Follow the links below to read more about some of our prior accomplishments and ongoing work:

Oil and Acrylic on canvas, 48in x 60in, Artist’s concept of CloudSat in orbit

Useful Pursuit of Shadows,  G.Stephens (2003)

Oil and Acrylic on canvas, 48in x 60in, Artist’s concept of CloudSat in orbit


CloudSat was selected as a NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder satellite mission in 1999 to provide observations necessary to advance our understanding of cloud abundance, distribution, structure, and radiative properties. Since 2006, CloudSat has flown the first satellite-based millimeter-wavelength cloud radar—a radar that is more than 1000 times more sensitive than existing weather radars. 

NASA Precipitation Measurement Missions (PMM) Science Team

The NASA Precipitation Measurement Missions (PMM) Science Team conducts scientific research (including algorithm development, mission implementation, product validation, and data utilization) in support of the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM) and The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Missions.

NASA Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer – EOS (AMSR-E) Science Team

The EOS AQUA AMSR-E measures geophysical parameters supporting several global change science and monitoring efforts, including precipitation, oceanic water vapor, cloud water, near-surface wind speed, sea surface temperature, soil moisture, snow cover, and sea ice parameters.