Spaceflight Insider

Pioneering science instrument ISS-RapidScat decommissioned


Artist’s representation of the ISS-RapidScat instrument (inset). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Johnson Space Center

Two years may only be half of a typical course of study at a university, but for NASA’s pioneering International Space Station Rapid Scatterometer (ISS-RapidScat) science instrument, it was a lifetime.

Taking advantage of the orbital “high ground” offered by the ISS, ISS-RapidScat provided near real-time data for forecasters and researchers in an effort to gain a better understanding of ocean winds and how they impact regional weather patterns. Indeed, the instrument’s vantage point on the ISS contributed useful information to domestic and foreign entities alike.

Besides supplying unique wind data to agencies like the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and the U.S. Navy, ISS-RapidScat also provided information to European and Indian weather organizations.

“As a first-of-its-kind mission, ISS-RapidScat proved successful in providing researchers and forecasters with a low-cost eye on winds over remote areas of Earth’s oceans,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in a release from the agency. “The data from ISS-RapidScat will help researchers contribute to an improved understanding of fundamental weather and climate processes, such as how tropical weather systems form and evolve.”

Beyond being a first-of-its-kind weather instrument aboard the space station, ISS-RapidScat’s genesis is also noteworthy. The instrument was constructed in less than two years—something generally unheard of in modern spaceflight hardware—and made primarily from spare parts from NASA’s legacy QuickScat satellite, the highly regarded predecessor to ISS-RapidScat.

Gone Before Its Time

Unfortunately, ISS-RapidScat’s decommissioning wasn’t necessarily planned (or expected) to occur after less than two years in operation.

As with Earth-bound facilities, the ISS can also experience electrical issues, resulting in temporary service interruption to equipment dependent upon a steady supply of power. Such an incident occurred on August 19, 2016, when a power distribution unit on the station’s Columbus module failed.

Multiple attempts were undertaken to restore ISS-RapidScat operations, with the latest effort occurring on October 17, 2016, though none were successful.

While ISS-RapidScat may now be silent, there are other, comparable, devices on-orbit. ScatSat, a satellite launched and operated by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), will help fill the void after ISS-RapidScat’s loss.

Though the instrument itself may be gone, the data it has collected will be used for years to come.



Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.

⚠ Commenting Rules

Post Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *