Aqua Earth-observing satellite mission

5/11/2023: New Science Publication Using Aqua data

A new study by Westberry et al. published in Science titled, 'Atmospheric Nourishment of Global Ocean Ecoystems', detects the extent and magnitude of dust-deposition on the oceans globally. Dust-deposited on the ocean provides nutritents for phytoplankton. This new dataset was produced using Aqua MODIS data. Read the article here.

T.K. Westberry, et al., Atmospheric noursiment of global ocean ecysystems. Science 380, 515-519 (2023). DOI: 10.1126/science.abq5252



Happy 21st Birthday AQUA!!!!!

The Aqua satellite launched on May 4, 2002. 


"Since its launch more than two decades ago, the Aqua mission has delivered observations essential to improving our understanding of global dynamics and processes occurring on the land and cryosphere, the oceans, and the atmosphere. Furthermore, the Aqua mission has addressed topics of national priority such as weather forecasting, homeland security and defense, and natural resource management [...] Aqua is one of the most highly successful Earth observing satellites ever to have orbited our planet [...] As the Aqua satellite celebrates its 20th year in space, its contributions continue to advance our knowledge of Earth's systems for the benefit of humanity.”

From the citation of the USGS Pecora 2022 Group Award to Aqua.


 Aqua, Latin for water, is a NASA Earth Science satellite mission named for the large amount of information that the mission is collecting about the Earth's water cycle, including evaporation from the oceans, water vapor in the atmosphere, clouds,precipitation, soil moisture, sea ice, land ice, and snow cover on the land and ice. Additional variables also being measured by Aqua include radiative energy fluxes, aerosols, vegetation cover on the land, phytoplankton and dissolved organic matter in the oceans, and air, land, and water temperatures.

The Aqua mission is a part of the NASA-centered international Earth Observing System (EOS). Aqua was formerly named EOS PM, signifying its afternoon equatorial crossing time. A timeline of Aqua on-orbit progress through the initial 120 day check-out period can be found here.

Aqua was launched on May 4, 2002, and has six Earth-observing instruments on board, collecting a variety of global data sets. Aqua was originally developed for a six-year design life but has now far exceeded that original goal.

It continues collecting and transmitting high-quality data from four of its six instruments: 

Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS),

Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU),

Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES),

Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS),

Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (AMSR-E), suffered a major anomaly in October 2011 and ceased its high-quality data transmission at that time. Later the instrument was turned back on, and it transmitted reduced quality data important for intercalibration purposes before being powered off in March 2016. 

Humidity Sounder for Brazil (HSB), collected approximately nine months of high quality data but failed in February 2003.


Aqua was the first member launched of a group of satellites termed the Afternoon Constellation, or sometimes the A-Train.


1.) Aqua, launched in May 2002

2.) Aura, launched in July 2004

3.) PARASOL, launched in December 2004 and completed its mission and exited the A-Train in December 2013.

4. & 5.) CloudSat and CALIPSO, launched in May 2006, and

6.) GCOM-W1, launched in May 2012

7.) OCO-2, launched in July 2014

When OCO-2 was launched, it the A-Train, followed by GCOM-W1, Aqua, CALIPSO, CloudSat, and Aura. By early 2022, CloudSat, CALIPSO, and Aqua had all exited the A-Train. Due to fuel limitations, Aqua completed the last of its drag makeup maneuvers in December 2021 and is now in a free-drift mode, slowly descending below the A-Train and drifting to later equatorial crossing times. 


Latest News from the Aqua Mission


NASA’s Terra, Aqua, and Aura Data Continuity Workshop

In early 2023, NASA put out a Request For Information (RFI) seeking input from the science community and stakeholders on data product continuity needs, capabilities, and gaps and continuity as the NASA EOS Terra, Aqua and Aura missions are nearing the end of their operational lifetimes. 

The workshop will be aimed at identifying (i) possible alternatives to the Terra, Aqua, and Aura data products for process studies and applications, (ii) mechanisms for continuing Terra, Aqua, and Aura Climate Data Records, and (iii) critical gaps.

The RFI responses were due April 4, 2023 and will be used to plan a virtual workshop which will be held on May 23-25, 2023 between 11am-4pm EDT.



NASA’s EOS Drifting Orbitings Community Workshop

On November 1-2, 2022 NASA held a hybrid community workshop soliciting information on the science that could be enhanced or facilitated due to the free-drift orbit that Aqua entered in 2022.

The virtual webinar workshop agenda included 6 sessions over two 7-hour days. Between the opening and closing plenary sessions were a total of 8 instrument breakout discussions run in parallel and 546 unique workshop participants attended over the two days.

The responses from the workshop were compiled in a report. The findings from this workshop concluded that the gradually changing MLT of Aqua’s “drag-down, free-drift” orbit enables exciting new science opportunities, e.g., observing closer to the prevalent time of peak land convection and wildfire activity, while still collecting science quality data.


10/27/2022: The Aqua Mission Team received the Pecora 2022 Group Award

Click to view a video of the award ceremony.


Recent Imagery Incorporating Aqua Data

Splintering Sea Ice in the Amundsen Gulf
Published on Friday June 02, 2023

Aqua Image Highlight

View the Image Highlight Archive

Aqua Status

  • Operating instruments: AIRS, AMSU, CERES, MODIS, and AMSR-E, the latter at a reduced rotation rate appropriate for cross-calibration purposes rather than for science.
  • Current life expectancy: Aqua has a strong chance of operating successfully into the early 2020s.
  • Current systems issues: None.
  • Data access: The processed Aqua data are available through several NASA data centers identified on the images and data page.
  • The Aqua data are also transmitted via direct broadcast, from which they can be processed for real-time applications using technologies and algorithms available from the NASA Direct Readout Laboratory (DRL).
  • Greater detail on the status of the Aqua spacecraft, instruments, and other aspects of the mission are presented in a PDF Aqua Status file, updated monthly.
  • Anticipated operational milestones for the Aqua mission, in the event of continued funding, are presented in a pdf slide.

Aqua Video Podcast Series

A series of five video podcasts (i.e., vodcasts) have been produced by NASA Goddard TV in conjunction with Aqua mission personnel.

  1. Vodcast 1, Introducing the Aqua Mission, viewable at the NASA Goddard YouTube channel and NASA Scientific Visualization Studio
  2. Vodcast 2, Aqua AIRS: Visions of Weather and Climate, viewable at the NASA Goddard YouTube channel and NASA Scientific Visualization Studio
  3. Vodcast 3, Aqua AMSR-E: Scanning Earth's Water Cycle, viewable at the NASA Goddard YouTube channel and NASA Scientific Visualization Studio
  4. Vodcast 4, Aqua MODIS: Science and Beauty, viewable at the NASA Goddard YouTube channel and NASA Scientific Visualization Studio
  5. Vodcast 5, Aqua CERES: Tracking Earth's Heat Balance, viewable at the NASA Goddard YouTube channel and NASA Scientific Visualization Studio

Aqua Science of the Month

Coastal phytoplankton blooms expand and intensify in the 21st century

Dai, Y.,Yang, S., Zhao, D. et al. Coastal phytoplankton blooms expand and intensify in the 21st century. Nature 615, 280–284 (2023).

Figure: MODIS-dectected bloom count within certian years for several coastal regions with frequency reported blooms. The MODIS observational year is annotated within each panel, and overlaid points indicate in situ recorded harmful algal bloom events from the Harmful Algae Event Database (HAEDAT) within the same year. The lower right panel shows the locations of all the HAEDAT records that were used for algorithm validations in this study, which also demonstrates the increase in sampling effort in the most recent years. 

A new study, published in Nature, found that globally coastal algae blooms are increasing in frequency and extent between 2003-2020.

These blooms were detected by a algae bloom detection dataset, which was produced using 0.76 million MODIS-Aqua images.

While some algae blooms are beneficial providing food to fisheries and the ecosystems worldwide, other blooms called 'Harmful Algae Blooms' are becoming more prevalaent and can put toxins in the food chain, affecting animals and humans, and can depelete the oxygen in areas creating 'Dead Zones' that can kill many species.

This daily coastal phytoplanton bloom dataset is important because it can be used to inform future management and policy actions and provides locations and timing of these algae blooms.