INCUS Mission Plan and Instruments

INCUS is made possible by small size and low power consumption to support three low-cost SmallSats with advanced active and passive measurements of cloud dynamics in the global tropics.

  1. Strong Heritage: Successful technology demos by NASA's Earth Science and Technology Office (RainCube and TEMPEST-D instruments) will be flown together on INCUS for the first time on one platform, thereby capitalizing on their combined capabilities to obtain simultaneous observations of the internal storm structure, rapidly evolving convective mass flux and updraft dynamics, and anvil cloud properties.

  2. Series of three SmallSats: Three SmallSats will be flown in close succession with three time intervals (30, 90, and 120 seconds) will be used to apply a novel time-differencing approach to estimate convective mass flux in tropical convective storms for the first time.

  3. Instruments: Three RainCube-like Ka-band radars (one on each SmallSat) and one TEMPEST-D-like radiometer (middle SmallSat only) provide both active and passive remote sensing observations of rapid changes in convective cloud depths and intensities across the global tropics.
Illustration showing one of the INCUS satellites

Anticipated Basic Specifications

Illustration showing the basic mission setup of INCUS, with three satellites passing over a line of convective storms, one at time 0, one 30 seconds later, and one 120 seconds after the first one.

Target Launch Date: October 2026

Mission Duration: 2 Years

InclinationTropical (anticipated inclination between 22.5° and 39°)
Speed~7 km s-1
Orbit Duration~95 minutes
Orbits per Day~15
InstrumentsThree scanning Ka-band radars, one scanning radiometer
Science DataConvective mass flux, 3D reflectivity, 5 passive microwave channels
Spatial ResolutionKa-band radar: ~3.1 km; Radiometer: ~16 km
Observational CoverageAll longitudes, with latitudinal coverage dependent on inclination
Mass~100 kg
Power~190 Watts
Data RateUp to 2.2 Gb per day (per space craft)

Anticipated Instrument Performance

Ka-Band Radars

Horizontal Resolution~3.1 km
Vertical Resolution~240 m
Radar Sensitivity~12 dBZ
Swath Width~9 km
Instrument Weight~7 kg

Radiometer (one satellite only)

Frequencies87, 165, 174, 178, 181 ± 0.5 GHz
Horizontal Resolution~16 km
Swath Width~1000 km
Instrument Weight~3.8 kg
Illustration showing one of the INCUS satellites with its components labeled