Aqua Earth-observing satellite mission

 Latest News from the Aqua Mission

 View Past News Highlights here


October 19, 2023

Aqua has been directed by NASA HQ to:

  • Extend operations through FY26 as currently baselined in the Senior Review budget target (in-guide)
  • Initiate Phase F in FY27.



September 29, 2023 

The 2023 NASA Earth Science Senior Review Report has been released.

Aqua made a “Very strong case for continuing the 21-year Aqua data record for three more years"


Read the report here.



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. 


Recent Imagery Incorporating Aqua Data

Antarctic Iceberg Sails Away
Published on Thursday November 30, 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 September 2026.
  • 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.
  • View past Aqua Status files here

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


July 2023

Global climate-change trends detected in indicators of ocean ecology

 Cael, B.B., Bisson, K., Boss, E. et al. Global climate-change trends detected in indicators of ocean ecology. Nature (2023).


Figure: Map of locations where the ocean-colour trend SNR is higher than 2 for a 20-year annual time series. The intensity of the purple colour indicates the signal to noise ratio. Black stippling indicates regions with significant trends in Chl as well (12% of the ocean). MODIS-Aqua data from July 2002 to June 2022.

Climate change is altering the earth's oceans, specifically in marine ecosystems and it has been hypothosized that this could alter the ocean color. However, determining if this was occuring on a global scale has been difficult due to the lack of a long-term satellite data record, especially with intercalibration between different instruments being an issue. Having MODIS on Aqua for 20+ years has allowed for this type of study to take place, and for long term changes to be found.

A new study, published in Nature using Aqua MODIS reflectance data found that there are large areas of the global oceans where the color of the ocean has changed over the 20-year record and is becoming more green due to more phytoplantion. This change in ocean color is driven by climate change. This change is important because it alters the light environment of the oceans, which drive primary production and can lead to an overall change in the surface-ocean ecosystem, which could have potential effects on fisheries worldwide.


See older science highlights here.