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Satellite Missions Catalogue

TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission)

Jun 18, 2012





Cloud profile and rain radars




Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) was a research satellite jointly developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Launched in November 1997, TRMM operated for 17 years until April 2015. As part of the NASA Earth Science Enterprise (ESE) program, TRMM hosted a variety of instruments that gathered information about precipitation and latent heating between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, to further our understanding of global energy, water cycles and climate. 

Quick facts


Mission typeEO
Mission statusMission complete
Launch date27 Nov 1997
End of life date08 Apr 2015
Measurement domainAtmosphere, Ocean, Land
Measurement categoryCloud type, amount and cloud top temperature, Liquid water and precipitation rate, Cloud particle properties and profile, Multi-purpose imagery (ocean), Radiation budget, Surface temperature (ocean), Atmospheric Humidity Fields, Soil moisture, Ocean surface winds, Atmospheric Winds, Lightning Detection
Measurement detailedPrecipitation Profile (liquid or solid), Ocean imagery and water leaving spectral radiance, Downward long-wave irradiance at Earth surface, Precipitation intensity at the surface (liquid or solid), Cloud type, Cloud ice (column/profile), Cloud liquid water (column/profile), Upward short-wave irradiance at TOA, Upward long-wave irradiance at TOA, Downwelling (Incoming) solar radiation at TOA, Atmospheric specific humidity (column/profile), Sea surface temperature, Soil moisture at the surface, Wind speed over sea surface (horizontal), Oil spill cover, Downward short-wave irradiance at Earth surface, Long-wave Earth surface emissivity, Total lightning density, Upwelling (Outgoing) long-wave radiation at Earth surface
InstrumentsPR, LIS, CERES, TMI, VIRS
Instrument typeCloud profile and rain radars, Imaging multi-spectral radiometers (vis/IR), Earth radiation budget radiometers, Imaging multi-spectral radiometers (passive microwave), Lightning sensors
CEOS EO HandbookSee TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission) summary

trmm satellite
The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission TRMM (Image credit: NASA)



Mission Capabilities

TRMM hosted five instruments in total. Of these five, three primary sensors made up the 'rainfall package':

  1. the Precipitation Radar (PR),
  2. the TRMM Microwave Imager (TMI)
  3. the Visible and Infrared Scanner (VIRS).

PR was an active phased array microwave radar which measured 3D rainfall distribution over land and oceans.

TMI was a passive multichannel, dual-polarised microwave radiometer that detected microwave energy from Earth's surface and atmosphere. This instrument obtained measurements of sea surface temperature, wind speed, columnar water vapour, cloud liquid water, and rain rate.

The final sensor in the trio was VIRS, a passive cross-track scanning radiometer which measured scene radiance in five spectral bands. Data obtained by VIRS  is used in conjunction with data from CERES to determine cloud radiation and enables calibration of precipitation indexes derived from other data sources.

The two secondary sensors onboard TRMM were:

  1. the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS)
  2. the Cloud and Earth Radiant Energy System (CERES).

LIS was an optical staring telescope/filter imaging system that detected the rate, position, and radiant energy of lightning flashes. LIS measured lightning distribution and variability over the Earth, its correlation with rainfall, and its relationship with the global electric circuit.

The final instrument onboard TRMM was CERES, which sensed radiances in the broadband shortwave and total spectral regions using thermistor bolometer detectors. This data is used to measure the energy at the top of the atmosphere and permits energy level estimates both within the atmosphere and at the Earth's surface.

Nine months into TRMM’s mission, CERES suffered a voltage converter anomaly and was subsequently disabled.

Performance Specifications

PR had a swath width of 215 km and a spatial resolution of 4.3 km, while TMI had a wider swath width of 760 km and a spatial resolution of 5 - 45 km (highest resolution at 85.5 GHz). VIRS had a similar swath width to TMI, at 720 km, and a spatial resolution of 2km (nadir). Of the secondary instruments, LIS had a swath width of 4 km (nadir) and locational coverage of lightning flashes within 5 km over a field of view of 600 km x 600 km. CERES had a resolution of 10 km (nadir) and a scan angle of ±78° (global).

The TRMM satellite followed a non-sun-synchronous near-circular (low inclination) orbit with an inclination of 35° and a period of 93.5 minutes. TRMM’s original altitude of 350 km was increased to 402.5 km in 2001 to extend its life by two years, however, the mission remained operational for significantly longer, leaving service in April 2015. 

Space and Hardware Components

TRMM was a three-axis stabilised spacecraft built in-house at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. TRMM contained various attitude determination and control hardware and featured two solar panels which provided 1100 W of power.
Onboard, the Spacecraft Data System (SDS) provided the computational capability to process attitude sensor data and generate commands for the attitude control actuators. The SDS also provided stored command processing and monitored the health and safety functions of the spacecraft and instrument subsystems. 

The spacecraft employed two Telemetry, Tracking and Control (TT&C) transponders that permitted communications through four radio frequency (RF) links via the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite system. While operational, TRMM science data was received by both NASA/GSFC and JAXA/EORC (Earth Observation Research Center). 

TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission)

Overview   Spacecraft   Launch   Mission Status   Sensor Complement   References

TRMM is a joint NASA/JAXA (formerly NASDA) mission within NASA's ESE (Earth Science Enterprise) program with a low-inclination (equatorial) orbit. NASA/GSFC provides the satellite, four passive sensors, and mission operations, NASDA the launch vehicle (H-II rocket) and the precipitation radar instrument. Each agency processes the data from its own instruments. TRMM is the first mission dedicated to observing and understanding tropical and subtropical rainfall, one of the most important, but least understood parameters in global change. 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7)


Global change studies, especially in developing an interdisciplinary understanding of atmospheric circulation, ocean-atmospheric coupling, and tropical biology. General circulation models require detailed data on the latent heating of equatorial air masses, and the forcing and propagation speed of waves involved in the 30-60 day tropical oscillations.

• Measure diurnal variation of precipitation and evaporation in the tropics to provide an increased understanding of how substantial rainfall affects global climate patterns.

• Obtain a minimum of three years of climatologically significant observations of rainfall in the tropics.

• In tandem with cloud models, provide accurate estimates of the vertical distributions of latent heating in the atmosphere.

• Provide TRMM rain products to weather organizations/researchers as close to real-time as possible to facilitate research into their applicability for forecast improvements and broader weather research.



The idea of measuring rainfall from space using a combined instrument complement of passive and active microwave (radar) instruments was generated in Japan in the late 1970s and in the USA in the early 1980s. 8) 9)

- Already in 1978 CRL (Communication Research Laboratory) of Tokyo, Japan started with the design of a so-called precipitation radar instrument.

- In Sept. 1984, a proposal titled, ‘‘Tropical Rain Measuring Mission,'' was submitted to NASA/HQ by a team of GSFC investigators (G. North, T. T. Wilheit, and O. Thiele). The CRL of Japan (N. Fugono) joined in the activities soon thereafter.

- In 1985, a joint satellite project was proposed by NASA. The Japanese Space Commission accepted the NASA invitation to study jointly the feasibility of a TRMM mission. In November 1985, the first major workshop was convened near Goddard to develop the proposed TRMM further (NASA/GSFC and CRL). The group released a report establishing the science priorities for the mission in 1986.

Although tropical precipitation is organized on the mesoscale, it is noteworthy that the primary objectives of the mission were to improve climate models and to aid them in climate prediction. It was proposed to have a dual-frequency radar, a multichannel dual-polarized, conically scanning passive microwave instrument similar to SSM/I, a single-frequency cross-track scanning radiometer to sample along with the radars, and a VIRS (Visible/Infrared Scanner) similar to the AVHRR (Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer). The purpose of the visible/infrared instrument was to enable TRMM to establish the connection between TRMM and operational geostationary platforms and thus to serve as a ‘‘flying rain gauge.''

Goals of TRMM established by the Science Steering Group in 1986

1) To advance the earth science system objective of understanding the global energy and water cycles by providing distributions of rainfall and latent heating over the global Tropics.

2) To understand the mechanisms through which changes in tropical rainfall influence global circulation and to improve the ability to model these processes in order to predict global circulations and rainfall variability at monthly and longer timescales.

3) To understand the mechanisms through which changes in tropical rainfall influence global circulation and to improve the ability to model these processes in order to predict global circulations and rainfall variability at monthly and longer timescales.

4) To provide rain and latent heating distributions to improve the initialization of models ranging from 24-hour forecasts to short-range climate variations.

5) To help to understand, diagnose, and predict the onset and development of the El Nino, Southern Oscillation, and the propagation of the 30–60 day oscillations in the Tropics.

6) To help to understand the effect that rainfall has on the ocean thermohaline circulations and the structure of the upper ocean.

7) To allow cross-calibration between TRMM and other sensors with life expectancies beyond that of TRMM itself.

8) To evaluate the diurnal variability of tropical rainfall globally.

9) To evaluate a space-based system for rainfall measurements.

- Agreements between the United States and Japan were formalized in 1988, leading to a new start for a joint U.S.–Japan mission at that time. The Japanese side (NASDA) agreed to provide the precipitation radar and launch of the TRMM spacecraft by their new HII rocket. NASA would provide the spacecraft and the other rain-sensing instruments. The U.S. Congress passed support for TRMM for a new start in 1991, and the project got underway formally.

- In 1988, Japan (CRL) started with a breadboard model of the PR (Precipitation Radar) which was completed in 1993.

- Joint aircraft flights with an experimental radar suggested that instrument accuracy was promising. The low Earth orbit needed to realize such measurements from a spaceborne platform, however, immediately raised concerns regarding the sampling adequacy of such a satellite.

The radar data from the four Global Atmospheric Research Program Atlantic Tropical Experiment ships stationed in the ITCZ (Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone) off Africa in 1974 were used for a series of sampling studies. Several orbits and altitudes were considered. An inclined orbit extending between 35º N and 35º S at 350 km altitude was found to be the most suitable. The inclined orbit precessed such that the satellite would overfly a given location at a different time every day with an approximately 42-day cycle. This orbit would allow the documentation of the large diurnal variation of tropical rainfall.

- The ground validation program that followed included:

  • the conduction of studies to improve rainfall measurement technology;
  • the establishment of ground validation sites consisting of radars, rain gauges, and disdrometers around the Tropics;
  • development and expansion of techniques to measure rainfall in oceanic regions;
  • improvement of ground-based rainfall estimation techniques;
  • development of radar processing and analysis software for producing and analyzing ground validation (GV) products.

- In 1993, the TRMM observatory passed its critical design review and moved into phase C/D of actual observatory construction.

- In 1994, the United States and Japan simultaneously selected new science teams that would be in place until the launch of TRMM in 1997. Although it was decided that the two teams should operate independently, a Joint TRMM Science Team made up of team leaders from both countries was established to coordinate the efforts of both teams. This joint team has worked effectively since then through the successful launch of TRMM from Tanegashima Island on November 27, 1997.




The TRMM spacecraft is three-axis stabilized using zero momentum bias (designed and built at GSFC). The nominal Earth-pointing mission mode requires a rotation once per orbit about the spacecraft's y-axis.

The attitude determination hardware consists of ESA (Earth Sensor Assembly), DSS (Digital Sun Sensors), CSS (Coarse Sun Sensors), a TAM (Three-Axis Magnetometer), and gyroscopic rate sensors.

The attitude control hardware includes three MTB (Magnetic Torquer Bars) which are used to provide magnetic momentum unloading capability and a Reaction Wheel Assembly (RWA) which consists of four wheels in a pyramidal arrangement to maximize momentum storage capability along a preferred axis. Primary attitude determination is accomplished using the ESA and gyroscopes. The attitude knowledge is 0.18º per axis.

Two solar panels provide 1100 W of power (850 W average); the S/C mass = 3620 kg (including 890 kg of fuel); the S/C dimensions are approximately 5 m x 3.5 m; design life = 3 years. The SDS (Spacecraft Data System) features a dual-redundant command and data handling system which functions as a command decoding and distribution system, a telemetry/data handling system, and a data storage system. It provides the onboard computational capability for processing attitude sensor data and generating commands for the attitude control actuators in a closed-loop fashion. It also provides stored command processing and monitoring of the health and safety functions for the spacecraft and instrument subsystems. Use of MIL-STD-1773 protocol for data bus interfaces.

RF communications:

TRMM employs two TT&C transponders permitting communications through four RF links via TDRS (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite), namely:

• LCP (Left Circular Polarization) forward or receiving

• LCP return or transmitting

• RCP (Right Circular Polarization) forward or receiving

• RCP return or transmitting

The forward (receiving) frequency is in S-band (2076.94 MHz). The return (transmitting) frequency is also in S-band (2255.5 MHz). Data rate = 170 kbit/s average and 2 Mbit/s on playback; TDRSS S-band communications (8.5 minutes/orbit playback time). The CCSDS protocols are being used for communications. TRMM science data are being received by NASA/GSFC and by JAXA/EORC (Earth Observation Research Center).

Figure 1: Artist's rendition of the deployed TRMM spacecraft over a tropical storm (image credit: NASA) 10)
Figure 1: Artist's rendition of the deployed TRMM spacecraft over a tropical storm (image credit: NASA) 10)
Figure 2: The TRMM satellite being assembled at Goddard Space Flight Center (image credit: NASA/GSFC)
Figure 2: The TRMM satellite being assembled at Goddard Space Flight Center (image credit: NASA/GSFC)

Spacecraft mass

- Launch mass: 3620 kg
- Initial in-orbit mass: 3524 kg
- Fuel mass: 890 kg
- Dry mass: 2634 kg

Spacecraft size

- At launch: 5.1 m (length), 3.7 m (diameter)
- In orbit: 5.1 m (length), 14.6 m (in paddle direction)

Spacecraft power

850 W (average)

Attitude control

- Three-axis stabilized using zero momentum method

RF communications

Via TDRS, 32 kbit/s (real time), 2 Mbit/s (playback)

Design life

3 years and 2 months

Altitude change of orbit

In Aug. 2001, the orbital altitude was changed from 350 km to 402.5 km to extend the mission life.

Table 1: Major characteristics of the TRMM satellite
Figure 3: The deployed TRMM spacecraft (image credit: NASA)
Figure 3: The deployed TRMM spacecraft (image credit: NASA)



The TRMM spacecraft, along with ETS-7 (Engineering Test Satellite-7) of NASDA - composed of two spacecraft: Chaser (Orihime) and Target (Ikoboshi), were launched on Nov. 27, 1997 (19:37 UTC) from the Tanegashima Space Center (TNSC), Japan. The NASDA H-II rocket served as the launch vehicle.

The mission goals required an extensive GVP (Global Validation Program) after launch, consisting of more than 10 ground validation sites throughout the tropics. This was complemented by airborne underflight campaigns like CAMEX-3 (Convection and Atmospheric Moisture Experiment-3).


Non-sun-synchronous near-circular (low inclination) orbit, altitude = 350 km. (in Aug. 2001 TRMM was boosted to an altitude of 402.5 km to extend its life by 2 years), inclination = 35º, period = 96 min.

An observation coverage of the tropics was chosen since the volume of rainfall in the tropics accounts for about two-thirds of the total rainfall on the earth. The low orbital altitude was selected to ensure sufficient detection capability of the weak radar echoes of the PR instrument, the prime sensor on TRMM.

Note: In August 2001, NASA boosted the TRMM orbit to an average altitude of 402.5 km to extend the mission life of TRMM. The choice of 402.5 km was determined by the next higher altitude at which the PR would work, given the designed pulse repetition rate. 11)

After the orbit boost, a 6-state Kalman filter used 3-axis gyro data with sun sensor and magnetometer data to estimate onboard attitude and gyro rate biases. Originally, the backup Kalman filter control mode was intended to meet a degraded attitude accuracy of 0.7º; however, after improving the onboard ephemeris accuracy and adjusting an onboard magnetometer calibration, it proved possible to meet the original 0.2º accuracy requirement.

Figure 4: Artist's view of the deployed TRMM spacecraft (image credit: NASA)
Figure 4: Artist's view of the deployed TRMM spacecraft (image credit: NASA)

Orbit parameter

Pre-boost orbit (Dec. 8, 1997 to Aug. 7. 2001)

Post-boost orbit (Aug. 20, 2001 to present)



Target altitude

350± 1.25 km

402.5± 1 km

Orbital period

91.3 minutes

92.4 minutes

Precession rate



Table 2: Overview of TRMM orbit parameters



Mission Status

TRMM mission was launched on Nov. 27, 1997, and reentered on June 16, 2015.

• May 2, 2016:

Earth has a new lightning capital, according to a recent study using observations from the LIS (Lightning Imaging Sensor) onboard NASA's TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission). Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela earned the top spot receiving an average rate of about 233 flashes/km2 per year, according to the study. Researchers had previously identified Africa's Congo Basin as the location of maximum lightning activity. 12) 13)

- The research team constructed a very high-resolution data set derived from 16 years of spaceborne LIS observations to identify and rank the lightning hotspots.

- Previous total lightning climatology studies using LIS observations of TRMM were reported at coarse resolution (0.5º) and employed significant spatial and temporal smoothing to account for sampling limitations of TRMM's tropical to sub-tropical low-earth orbit coverage. The analysis of the research team reported here uses a 16-year reprocessed data set to create a very high resolution (0.1º) climatology with no further spatial averaging.

This analysis reveals that the Earth's principal lightning hotspot occurs over Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, while the highest flash rate density hotspot previously found at the lower 0.5º resolution sampling was found in the Congo Basin in Africa. Lake Maracaibo's pattern of convergent windflow (mountain-valley, lake and sea breezes) occurs over the warm lake waters nearly year-round and contributes to nocturnal thunderstorm development 297 days per year on average. These thunderstorms are very localized and their persistent development anchored in one location accounts for the high flash rate density. Several other inland lakes with similar conditions, i.e., deep nocturnal convection driven by locally forced convergent flow over a warm lake surface, are also revealed.

- Africa is the continent with the most lightning hotspots, followed by Asia, South America, North America, and Australia. A climatological map of the local hour of maximum flash rate density reveals that most oceanic total lightning maxima are related to nocturnal thunderstorms, while continental lightning tends to occur during the afternoon. Most of the principal continental maxima are located near major mountain ranges, revealing the importance of local topography in thunderstorm development.

- "We can now observe lightning flash rate density in very fine detail on a global scale," said Richard Blakeslee, LIS project scientist at NASA/MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center). "Better understanding of lightning activity around the world enables policy makers, government agencies and other stakeholders to make more informed decisions related to weather and climate."

- Blakeslee joined forces with lightning researchers at the University of São Paulo, the University of Maryland, NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) and the University of Alabama in Huntsville to understand where and when most lightning occurs. Their findings will help forecasters and researchers better understand lightning and its connections to weather and other phenomena.

- "Lake Maracaibo has a unique geography and climatology that is ideal for the development of thunderstorms," said Dennis Buechler with the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Buechler noted that Lake Maracaibo is not new to lightning researchers. Located in northwest Venezuela along part of the Andes Mountains, it is the largest lake in South America. Storms commonly form there at night as mountain breezes develop and converge over the warm, moist air over the lake. These unique conditions contribute to the development of persistent deep convection resulting in an average of 297 nocturnal thunderstorms per year, peaking in September.

- The study also confirmed earlier findings that concentrated lightning activity tends to happen over land and reduced lightning activity over oceans and that continental lightning peaks generally in the afternoon.

Figure 5: Daytime and nighttime lightning flash rate density at Lake Maracaibo (top) and Lake Victoria (bottom). White lines represent elevation, and gray lines are country physical boundaries (image credit: University of Sao Paulo)
Figure 5: Daytime and nighttime lightning flash rate density at Lake Maracaibo (top) and Lake Victoria (bottom). White lines represent elevation, and grey lines are the country's physical boundaries (image credit: University of Sao Paulo)

• August 2015:

The TRMM PR (Precipitation Radar) continuously collected precipitation data for almost 17 years and finally ended due to a decline of TRMM orbit altitude on April 1, 2015. On February 28, 2014, the Core Observatory of the GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement) mission was launched, and the GPM DPR (Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar) started providing precipitation data succeeding the TRMM PR observation. PR and DPR not only estimate precipitation accurately both over land and the oceans but also provide information to derive precipitation characteristics (e.g., storm top height and precipitation vertical profile). Homogeneity of long-term PR/DPR data will be essential to study the water cycle change related to the interannual variability and the decadal change. 14)

- The long-term precipitation datasets estimated by the infrared imager and microwave imager is available over 20-30 years. A comparison of precipitation retrieved by another sensor is important to deeply understand long-term precipitation variability. In this study, we aim to develop precipitation climate data from 17-year PR data. The PR data have discontinuities in quality due to the boost of the TRMM satellite altitude (TRMM boost) in August 2001 and the PR hardware (H/W) change in June 2009. These quality changes of PR should be evaluated to develop the continuous level-1 PR data. The effect of the PR H/W change on the PR estimate has not been evaluated while the change of the TRMM boost was evaluated by previous studies.

- The original PR H/W lasted from the starting observation on December 1997 to failure on May 29, 2009. JAXA and NASA inferred that Frequency Converter Intermediate Frequency (FCIF) / System Control Data Processing (SCDP) units were not working normally and switched the FCIF/SCDP units from the original A-side or FCIF/SCDP-A to the backup B-side or FCIF/SCDP-B. The B-side observation was restarted from June 19, 2009, to the end of the TRMM mission on April 1st, 2015. Figure 1 shows a monthly time series of noise power during the post-TRMM-boost from September 2001 to July 2014 over the semi-global (35ºS-35ºN latitudinal band) ocean. The noise power is derived from the level-1 PR power data (1B21) version 7 product provided by JAXA. The noise power over the ocean is lower than over land so the temporal change of system noise power originated from PR H/W is mirrored by noise power over the ocean rather than land.

Figure 6: Time series of monthly noise power after the TRMM boost from September 2001 to July 2014 over the semi-global (35ºS-35ºN) ocean. Data are used angle bin from 21th to 29th (image credit: JAXA)
Figure 6: Time series of monthly noise power after the TRMM boost from September 2001 to July 2014 over the semi-global (35ºS-35ºN) ocean. Data are used angle bin from 21st to 29th (image credit: JAXA)

- The noise power after the TRMM boost gradually increased during the A-side period and slightly decreased two months before the A-side PR experienced a failure. After switching from the A-side to the B-side, the noise power drastically decreased compared to the A-side and changes remained stable during the B-side period. The change of noise power caused the difference in the SNR (Signal-to-Noise Ratio) between the A-side and the B-side; it is assumed that the precipitation detection of the B-side PR is more sensitive for weak precipitation than the A-side.

- The JAXA project team developed the PR precipitation climate data for the application of climate studies. In this study, the discontinuity of the PR H/W change is mitigated by creating the adjusted data. The simulation of noise power offset is conducted, and which is found that an obvious discontinuity of storm top height caused by the PR H/W change is mitigated. Semi-global precipitation derived from the adjusted data is decreased by 0.98 % compared with the original data. Finally, the team created the interim PR precipitation climate data. The data will inform about the recent decadal variability of precipitation by the PR.

On June 16, 2015, the TRMM spacecraft (mass of ~2.900 kg) of NASA and JAXA reentered Earth's atmosphere at 03:55 UTC over the South Indian Ocean, according to the US Strategic Command's Joint Functional Component Command for Space through the JSpOC (Joint Space Operations Center). 15) 16)

- Most of the spacecraft was expected to burn up during reentry, and NASA's Orbital Debris Program Office predicted 12 components of the TRMM satellite could survive the scorching fall through the atmosphere, including propellant and pressurant tanks, reaction wheel flywheels, solar array actuators, antenna brackets and several other pieces.

Figure 7: This U.S. Air Force map shows the ground track for the TRMM spacecraft's reentry on June 16, 2015 (image credit: NASA)
Figure 7: This U.S. Air Force map shows the ground track for the TRMM spacecraft's reentry on June 16, 2015 (image credit: NASA)

- The value of the new type of precipitation data produced by TRMM is widely recognized by both the scientific community and the operational weather forecast community. TRMM data were used to improve weather models and hurricane track and intensity estimates around the world.

- The TRMM dataset will continue to be used for research to improve global weather and climate models. The data meet exacting standards for data preservation, so that future scientists will be able to use the data. The dataset also is being processed to make up one continuous climate data record with the follow-on GPM (Global Precipitation Mission), also a joint project between the U.S. and Japan.

Figure 8: Orbital history of TRMM (image credit: NASA) 17)
Figure 8: Orbital history of TRMM (image credit: NASA) 17)

• April 9, 2015: In November 1997, when TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission) was launched, its mission was scheduled to last just 3 years. Now, 17 years later, the TRMM mission has come to an end. NASA and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) stopped TRMM's science operations and data collection on April 8, 2015, after the spacecraft depleted its fuel reserves. TRMM observed rainfall rates over the tropics and subtropics, where two-thirds of the world's rainfall occurs. TRMM carried the first precipitation radar flown in space, which returned data that were made into 3-D imagery, enabling scientists to see the internal structure of storms for the first time. 18)

- Scientists at NASA/GSFC originally intended TRMM's data to be used purely for precipitation research, but before long, people and organizations outside NASA were using it for a variety of purposes. "The data were being heavily used for tropical cyclone monitoring and forecasting," said TRMM Project Scientist Scott Braun at Goddard. "It was being used for flood detection and monitoring. It was also used for drought monitoring, disease monitoring — where diseases are most prevalent in areas of heavy precipitation and flooding." — The scientific community considered TRMM's data so critical to research and many practical applications that in 2001, at the end of TRMM's primary mission, NASA wanted to extend the mission for as long as possible.

- In 2001, NASA raised the TRMM spacecraft's orbit from 350 km to 402.5 km to save fuel consumption for a mission extension. At this altitude, the radar would still return strong, research-quality data. This manoeuvre extended TRMM's life four more years, and after a review in 2005, NASA again extended the mission life until the satellite ran out of fuel.

- The original goal was to provide monthly averages of rainfall over Earth's surface divided into large grid boxes, roughly 500 km square. TRMM eventually generated rainfall estimates at a higher resolution and in near-real time, every three hours.

- Now, TRMM has reached the end of its life. Battery issues complicated the operation of the spacecraft over the past year, so Scott Braun and the mission operations team had to make decisions about how to ration what power remains. In March 2014, they decided to turn off the VIRS instruments to extend the battery life. In July 2014, the spacecraft ran out of fuel that kept it at its boosted operational altitude and TRMM slowly began to drift down, while still collecting data. The remaining fuel, initially reserved to avoid collisions with other satellites or space debris, was depleted in early March 2015.

- Observations of hurricanes and precipitation from space will not end after TRMM. The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission's Core Observatory, launched in February 2014, succeeds and improves upon the TRMM project. Both missions are joint projects of NASA and JAXA.

• Feb. 20, 2015:

JAXA completed the normal mission operation of Precipitation Radar (PR) on board the TRMM satellite on October 7, 2014, and has conducted extra experimental operations since then while the spacecraft is slowly descending. 19)

- The satellite reached an altitude of ~350 km on February 12, 2015, which was the original nominal altitude before 2001. JAXA/EORC completed the verification of data quality and started the distribution of PR data around 350 km altitude (orbit number from 98231) to the public through the JAXA G-Portal system as scheduled.

• Dec. 10, 2014:

Typhoon Hagupit soaked the Philippines, and a NASA rainfall analysis indicated the storm dropped almost 19 inches in some areas. The TRMM satellite, managed by NASA and JAXA, gathered over a week of rainfall data on Hagupit. That rainfall data along with data from other satellites was compiled into an analysis to determine how much rain fell over various areas of the Philippines and surrounding areas. 20)

- On Dec. 8, the TRMM team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland performed a preliminary rainfall analysis and updated it on Dec. 9. The analysis of rainfall from Dec. 1-9, 2014) showed rainfall totals of over 450 mm (17.5 inches) in a few areas in the eastern Philippines near where Hagupit came ashore. Even greater rainfall totals of over 477 mm (18.7 inches) were analyzed over the open waters of the Philippine Sea east of Manila.

• On Nov. 27, 2014, the TRMM satellite was 17 years on orbit. After overlap observation with the DPR (Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar) on board the GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement) Core Observatory, launched on 27 February 2014 , the TRMM Precipitation Radar (PR) completed normal mission operation on 7 October 2014. On the other hand, operations of the TMI (TRMM Microwave Imager) are continuing even now. 21)

• Oct. 31, 2014:

After 17 years of groundbreaking 3-D images of rain and storms, the joint NASA and JAXA TRMM ( Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission) will come to an end next year. NASA predicts that science operations will cease in or about April 2015, based on the most recent analysis by mission operations at NASA/GSFC (Goddard Space Flight Center), Greenbelt, Maryland. 22)

• Oct. 9, 2014:

The TRMM satellite is descending, and the users of TRMM Precipitation Radar (PR) data should be aware that the last production orbit of public PR data was orbit #96230 on October 7, 2014. From that point forward, the TRMM PR data is suspended because no useful cloud data are being observed. It is possible that PR data will again be made available when TRMM descends to the vicinity of its at-launch altitude of 350 km. The TMI (TRMM Microwave Imager) data will continue to be produced and publicly available during the descent of the spacecraft until it reaches its decommissioning altitude of 335 km. 23)

• August 25, 2014:

The joint NASA/JAXA mission is running out of fuel (except for a small reserve amount for emergencies) and beginning its slow drift back to Earth. The pressure readings from TRMM's fuel tank on July 8 indicated, that the satellite was nearly at the end of its fuel supply. As a result, NASA has ceased orbit-raising manoeuvres to keep the satellite at its operating altitude of 402 km. 24)

- TRMM's slow descent will continue over the next 2 to 3 years. It will continue to collect useful data as its orbit descends to about 350-335 km over the next 18 months (expected ~Feb. 2016), at which time the satellite will be shut down. This date may change depending on solar activity, since energetic particles in solar flares heat the upper atmosphere, which expands the atmosphere toward space so that the satellite flies through a thicker atmosphere, increasing drag and lowering the spacecraft more quickly. After being shut down, TRMM has a 95 % probability of reentering the atmosphere in a time window between May 2016 and November 2017. Its current projected reentry date is around November 2016.

TRMM has met and exceeded its original goal of advancing our understanding of the distribution of tropical rainfall and its relation to the global water and energy cycles. Its planned three-year mission has already lasted for almost 17 years and provided researchers with an unprecedented data set that combined more traditional radiometer measurements with 3D radar scans across the tropical ocean and into the lower mid-latitudes from 35N to 35S latitude.

• The TRMM spacecraft and its payload (with the exception of CERES) are operating nominally in early 2014 (Ref. 4).

- Jan. 17, 2014:

Deadly Philippine Flooding And Landslides: People in the southern Philippines are used to heavy rainfall this time of the year but rainfall totals have recently been exceptionally high. A tropical low northeast of Mindanao has been an almost permanent feature on weather maps for the past week. It has caused nearly continuous rain in the area of northeastern Mindanao triggering floods and landslides that have caused the reported deaths of 34 people. 25)

The TMPA (TRMM Multi-Satellite Precipitation Analysis) service, produced at GSFC (Goddard Space Flight Center), combines the rainfall estimates generated by TRMM and other satellites. The analysis of Figure 9 shows a near-real-time TMPA for the period from January 10-17, 2014. Extremely high rainfall totals of over 1168 mm for the past week were found near northeastern Mindanao. This past Monday (Jan. 13, 2014) a deadly landslide in this area caused the deaths of six people on Dinagat Island.

Figure 9: TMPA of the heavy rainfalls of the Mindanao region (Philippines), mostly from TRMM data, in the period Jan. 10-17, 2014 (image credit: NASA/GSFC)
Figure 9: TMPA of the heavy rainfalls of the Mindanao region (Philippines), mostly from TRMM data, in the period Jan. 10-17, 2014 (image credit: NASA/GSFC)

• July 2013:

TRMM lifetime predictions, issued July 30, 2013. 26)

The big challenge faced by TRMM is the uncertainty associated with the end of fuel date. GPM is planned to be launched by February 2014. Assuming the worst-case scenario for fuel consumption, there should be 2+ years between the end-of-fuel and the end-of-life date, during which TMI data will always be available, including about 1 year during which the PR will also be available as the satellite drifts to the 350 km elevation range (Ref. 27).

Figure 10: TRMM Lifetime - January 2013 Schatten Update utilizing PVT Method (image credit: NASA)
Figure 10: TRMM Lifetime - January 2013 Schatten Update utilizing PVT Method (image credit: NASA)

• June 2013:

The 2013 Senior Review evaluated 13 NASA satellite missions in extended operations: ACRIMSAT, Aqua, Aura, CALIPSO, CloudSat, EO-1, GRACE, Jason-1, OSTM, QuikSCAT, SORCE, Terra, and TRMM. The Senior Review was tasked with reviewing proposals submitted by each mission team for extended operations and funding for FY14-FY15, and FY16-FY17. 27)

- TRMM has now passed the 15-year benchmark, which is a remarkable accomplishment considering that the initial life of the mission was to be three years. Because of this long record, and the broad constituency of data users for myriad applications, the continuity of the TRMM mission alone is justified in order to preserve the continuity and robustness of the longest global scale precipitation data set and meet operational demands. In addition, the record is currently enabling studies of global scale processes from annual to 3-5 years variability such as the Asian and Nth and South American Monsoons and ENSO.

TRMM is the precursor to the upcoming GPM mission to be launched in 2014, which will benefit from TRMM sensor technology, ground validation and algorithm legacies, and also from cross-calibration of radar and radiometer instruments. TRMM and GPM are commended for having devised a well-planned transition process that preserves TRMM strengths while building day-1 capacity for GPM algorithms and products.

• The TRMM spacecraft and its payload (with the exception of CERES) are operating nominally in 2013 (Ref. 4). 28)

• On Nov. 27, 2012, the TRMM spacecraft was 15 years on orbit. TRMM has become the world's foremost satellite for the study of precipitation and associated storms and climate processes in the tropics. While TRMM continues to collect valuable science data, its fuel will eventually run out for operations. Its successor, the GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement) mission, is gearing up for launch in February 2014. 29) 30)

Figure 11: This 3-D image of Hurricane Sandy's rainfall was created using TRMM Precipitation Radar data. It shows the storm as it appeared on Oct. 28, 2012. The red areas indicate rainfall of 50 mm per hour. (image credit: NASA/SSAI)
Figure 11: This 3-D image of Hurricane Sandy's rainfall was created using TRMM Precipitation Radar data. It shows the storm as it appeared on Oct. 28, 2012. The red areas indicate rainfall of 50 mm per hour. (image credit: NASA/SSAI)
Figure 12: Illustration of TRMM observed average daily rainfall for the month of November in the period 1998 to 2010 (image credit: NASA) 31)
Figure 12: Illustration of TRMM observed average daily rainfall for the month of November in the period 1998 to 2010 (image credit: NASA) 31)

• Gridded climatologies of total lightning flash rates observed by the spaceborne OTD (Optical Transient Detector) and LIS (Lightning Imaging Sensor) instruments have been updated. OTD collected data from May 1995 to March 2000. LIS data (equatorward of about 38º) adds the years 1998–2010. Flash counts from each instrument are scaled by the best available estimates of detection efficiency. The long LIS record makes the merged climatology most robust in the tropics and subtropics, while the high latitude data is entirely from OTD. The gridded climatologies include the annual mean flash rate on a 0.5º grid, the mean diurnal cycle of flash rate on a 2.5º grid with the 24-hour resolution, the mean annual cycle of flash rate on a 0.5º or 2.5º grid with the daily, monthly, or seasonal resolution, mean annual cycle of the diurnal cycle on a 2.5º grid with a two-hour resolution for each day, and time series of flash rate over the sixteen-year record with roughly three-month smoothing. 32)

The mean global flash rate from the merged climatology is 46 flashes s-1. This varies from around 35 flashes s-1 in February (austral summer) to 60 flashes s-1 in August (boreal summer). The peak annual flash rate at 0.5º scale is 160 fl km-2 yr-1 in eastern Congo. The peak monthly average flash rate at 2.5º scale is 18 fl km-2 mo-1 from early April to early May in the Brahmaputra Valley of far eastern India. Lightning decreases in this region during the monsoon season, but increases further north and west. An August peak in northern Pakistan also exceeds any monthly averages from Africa, despite central Africa having the greatest yearly average.

Figure 13: a) HRFC mean annual global flash rate from combined LIS and OTD observations on a 0.5º grid; b) LRFC mean annual flash rate from combined LIS and OTD, 2.5º grid (image credit: NASA, Ref. 32)
Figure 13: a) HRFC mean annual global flash rate from combined LIS and OTD observations on a 0.5º grid; b) LRFC mean annual flash rate from combined LIS and OTD, 2.5º grid (image credit: NASA, Ref. 32)

• The TRMM spacecraft and its payload (with the exception of CERES) are operating nominally in 2012. In June 2011, the NASA Earth Science Senior Review recommended an extension of the TRMM mission to 2015. 33)

Executive summary:

The TRMM satellite and its instruments are in excellent shape and there is sufficient station-keeping fuel on board to potentially maintain science operations until 2014 or later. TRMM flight operations and data processing costs have been significantly reduced for the extension period. TRMM data processing has shifted to the PPS (Precipitation Processing System), being developed as part of NASA's Precipitation Program to process TRMM, GPM and other relevant satellite precipitation data. The basic mission extension will continue the production of validation products that continue to contribute toward algorithm validation and improvement. A multi-year extension of TRMM has a very high payoff for science and applications, but at a low additional cost to NASA. 34)

Figure 14: Sample image of 7 day accumulated global reainfall data (image credit: NASA) 35)
Figure 14: Sample image of 7 day accumulated global reainfall data (image credit: NASA) 35)

• The TRMM spacecraft and its payload (with the exception of CERES) are operating nominally in 2011. NASA extended the mission trying to achieve an overlap with the GPM (Global Precipitation Measurement) mission, due for launch in 2013.

- The TRMM-based, near-real-time TMPA (Multi-satellite Precipitation Analysis) at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) is used to monitor rainfall over the global Tropics. In January/February 2011, TRMM covered Cyclone Yasi, a massive storm, that made landfall along the northeast coast of Queensland, Australia. 36) 37)

- As the TRMM mission has now (2011) continued into its 14th year, the science objectives have extended beyond just determining the mean precipitation distribution but have evolved toward determining the time and space-varying characteristics of tropical rainfall, convective systems, and storms and how these characteristics are related to variations in the global water and energy cycles. Significant scientific accomplishments have already come from TRMM data, including:

1. reducing the uncertainty of mean tropical oceanic rainfall;

2. documentation of regional, diurnal, and inter-annual variations in precipitation characteristics;

3. the first estimated profiles of latent heating from satellite data;

4. improved climate simulations; increased knowledge of characteristics of convective systems and tropical cyclones;

5. new insight into the impact of humans on rainfall distributions.

The availability of real-time TRMM data has led to significant applications and fulfilment of national operational objectives through the use of TRMM data, primarily in the monitoring of tropical cyclones, in hydrological applications, and in the assimilation of precipitation information into forecast models. The TRMM satellite and its instruments are in excellent shape and there is sufficient station-keeping fuel onboard to maintain science operations potentially until 2014 or later. 38)

- The successful TRMM partnership between NASA and JAXA has allowed for a better understanding of tropical rainfall and its relationship to the global climate and has paved the way for the next JAXA-NASA partnership in the form of GPM. As with TRMM, the success of GPM will be tied closely to the ability of all partners' data systems to closely coordinate efforts in the areas of science data processing and distribution.

• The TRMM spacecraft and its payload (with the exception of CERES) are operating nominally in 2010 after more than 12 years in orbit. The combined use of the PR and the TMI instrument data has greatly improved the estimation of rainfall amount. It has also revealed the three-dimensional structure of tropical cyclones over the ocean, which was rarely observed before the TRMM satellite.

Figure 15: On Jan. 21, 2010 TRMM passed over tropical cyclone Magda when it was off Western Australia's northern coast and soon to make landfall (image credit: NASA) 39)
Figure 15: On Jan. 21, 2010 TRMM passed over tropical cyclone Magda when it was off Western Australia's northern coast and soon to make landfall (image credit: NASA) 39)

Legend to Figure 15: The instruments PR (Precipitation Radar) and TMI (TRMM Microwave Imager) revealed that Magda had developed an eye before coming ashore with hurricane-force winds and powerful thunderstorms were dropping rainfall at a rate greater than 50 mm per hour in an area west of the eye. TRMM's 3-D perspective of Magda showed that some of the intense thunderstorms near its eye reached heights above ~16 km.

• In 2008, the TRMM mission life was extended with current estimates that mission operations will continue through the 2012-2013 timeframe. 40)

• TRMM is operating nominally as of 2008 after more than 10 years in orbit (10th anniversary of spacecraft launch on Nov. 27, 2007). TRMM has yielded significant scientific research data accumulated over the past years to users around the globe, well beyond its original design life of 3 years. TRMM started as an experimental mission but has become the primary satellite in a global set of satellites to observe and study precipitation characteristics and variations. 41) 42) 43)

- All spacecraft systems are in excellent shape for continuation; one of two solar arrays is parked in a horizontal position to avoid a failure of SADA (Solar Array Drive Assembly).

- The TRMM instruments (PR, TMI, VIRS, LIS) and spacecraft remain in excellent operating shape with some minor degradations

- Based on current fuel consumption expectations (in late 2007), TRMM data could be available into 2012-2013, providing the potential for overlap with GPM.

Continuation of the TRMM mission:

As of October 2005, NASA management decided to continue the TRMM mission until at least 2009 and possibly until 2012. Earlier agency plans had called for discontinuing TRMM this year (2005) while the spacecraft still had enough fuel for a controlled reentry. Although initially intended as a purely research-oriented mission, TRMM data are now being used in operational applications such as hurricane forecasting, because the data from its complementary sensor suite are unique and available in near real-time. The TRMM data are being used by several US weather forecasting centres as well as by JAXA, the ECMWF (European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts), and by the tropical cyclone warning centres of WMO (World Meteorological Organization).

- NASA's extension of the TRMM mission followed an internal NASA review that determined that the benefits to increased public safety from continued TRMM data service, in particular in such programs as hurricane modelling, outweighed by far any potential dangers from an uncontrolled reentry. 44)

• On Jan. 4, 2005, NASA announced that it will continue to operate the TRMM spacecraft through spring 2005.

• As of the summer of 2005, NASA policy is to decommission the TRMM mission in the latter part of 2005. 45)

• Although the spacecraft could be operated for several more years, NASA informed JAXA in early 2004 that it intends to decommission and to de-orbit TRMM. However, this intended policy action (due to budgetary constraints) caused a heated debate by the data user community - a number of weather forecasting agencies are using TRMM data to improve hurricane and typhoon tracking. As of July 2004, NASA and JAXA were discussing the future of the joint mission. The outcome is a mutual agreement to deorbit TRMM within the next year. The science operations on TRMM are due to retire by the end of 2004.

• Once operations of TRMM cease, NASA plans to use the naturally decaying orbit (without any orbit-raising manoeuvres) for about a year in preparation for a thruster firing, designed to drop the spacecraft eventually into the Pacific Ocean (this manoeuvre requires fuel). 46) 47)

The follow-on mission to TRMM is GPM (Global Precipitation Mission), a joint project of NASA and JAXA, with a planned launch for Dec. 2010. However, as of Nov. 2005, this date is in jeopardy because GPM is still in its definition phase at NASA and at JAXA.

The CERES instrument suffered a voltage converter anomaly in August 1998; hence, it acquired only 9 months of useful science data.

• Data from all the instruments first became available approximately 30 days after the launch. Since then, much progress has been made in the calibration of the sensors, the improvement of the rainfall algorithms, and applications of these results to areas such as data assimilation and model initialization (Ref. 8).

Figure 16: Alternate view of the TRMM spacecraft and its payload (image credit: UCB)
Figure 16: Alternate view of the TRMM spacecraft and its payload (image credit: UCB)



Sensor Complement

The first three instruments (PR, VIRS and TMI) are the primary sensors on TRMM forming what is called the 'rain package'. 48)


Swath width (km)

Ground resolution ()km)














4.4 (at 85.5 GHz)

5.1 (at 85.5 GHz)






Table 3: Characteristics of primary TRMM instruments


Observation Objectives

Frequency/ spectral range

Horizontal Resolution

Swath Width


3-D rainfall distribution

13.8 GHz

4.3 km (nadir)

215 km


Vertically integrated rainfall distribution

10.7, 19.4, 21.3, 37, and 85.5 GHz

5-45 km

780 km


Cloud distribution and height, rain estimates from brightness temp.

0.63, 1.6, 3.75, 10.7, and 12 µm

2 km

720 km


Radiation from top of clouds and Earth, energy budget

0.3 - 5 µm
8.0 - 12.0 µm
0.3 - 100 µm

10 km (nadir)

Scan angle: ±78º (global)


Lightning distribution

0.7774 µm

4 km (nadir)

600 x 600 km

Table 4: Overview of TRMM sensor complement and objectives 49)
Figure 17: Schematic view of rainfall measurement with the TRMM sensor complement (image credit: JAXA)
Figure 17: Schematic view of rainfall measurement with the TRMM sensor complement (image credit: JAXA)
Figure 18: Rainfall measurement with the TRMM sensor complement after orbit boost (image credit: NASA)
Figure 18: Rainfall measurement with the TRMM sensor complement after orbit boost (image credit: NASA)


PR (Precipitation Radar)

PR is a JAXA instrument in cooperation with NICT (National Institute of Information and Communications Technology) of Tokyo, formerly CRL (Communications Research Laboratory), Japan.

Active phased array microwave radar operating with horizontal polarization (orbit permits monthly sampling over the complete diurnal cycle), minimum measurable rain rate of 0.5 mm/h.


3-D rainfall distribution over land and oceans (combined with TMI sensor). Periodically the PR performs an external calibration with ARC (Active Radar Calibrator) and an internal loop calibration to measure the transfer function of the PR receiver. 50) 51) 52) 53) 54)

The radar echo of the instrument consists of the following three components: rain echo, surface echo, and mirror image echo. The surface echo is measured for estimating the total path attenuation and for providing the range of the surface along the radar beam. The mirror image, which is the rain echo received through the double reflection at the surface, may be useful to estimate rain rate retrieval; it is measured at nadir incidence.

Type of radar echo


Nominal rain and surface echoes

Surface to 15 km altitude, 250 m interval, all scan angles

Mirror image

0 - 5 km altitude, 250 m interval, at nadir only

Oversampled surface echo

Surface echo peak ±0.5 km,125 m interval, scan angles within ±10º

Oversampled rain echo

Surface echo peak to 7.5 km alt., 125 m interval, scan within ±3.5º

Table 5: PR radar echo collection parameters
Figure 19: Functional block diagram of the PR instrument (image credit: JAXA)
Figure 19: Functional block diagram of the PR instrument (image credit: JAXA)
Figure 20: Illustration of the PR instrument (image credit: JAXA)
Figure 20: Illustration of the PR instrument (image credit: JAXA)

The PR is a 128-element active phased array system. The transmitter/receiver consists of 128 Solid-State Power Amplifiers (SSPA) LNAs and PIN-diode phase shifters. Each transmitter/receiver element is connected to a 2 m slotted waveguide (WG) antenna (2 m x 2 m planar array). The PR uses a frequency-agility technique to obtain 64 independent samples (NS) with a single PRF of 2776 Hz, in which a pair of 1.6 µs pulses - having two different frequencies at 6 MHz apart from each other - are transmitted. There are 49 angle bins with an angle-bin interval of 0.71º over the swath width; 32 pairs of pulses are transmitted for each angle bin. 55)






13.796 and 13.802 GHz

Antenna type
- Beam width
- Aperture
- Scan angle
- Samples cross-track
- Samples vertically

128 element WG planar array
0.71º x 0.71º
2.0 m x 2.0 m
±17º (cross track scan)


≤ 0.7 mm/h

- Peak power
- Pulse width

SSPA &LNA (128 channels)
≥ 500 W (antenna input)
1.6 µs x 2 channel
2776 Hz

Swath width

215 km

Dynamic range

≥ 70 dB

Observable range

Surface to 15 km

NS (No of independent samples)


Horizontal resolution

4.3 km (nadir)

Data rate

93.2 kbit/s

Range resolution

250 m (nadir)

Instrument mass, power

465 kg (max), 250 W (max)

Table 6: Instrument parameters of PR

Instrument Mode



Nominal science observation ±17º cross-track scan

External calibration

Special oversample scan (center scan angle ±1.1º) or fixed beam position

Internal calibration

Internal-loop calibration for receiver I/O transfer function measurement


Temporal RF radiation stop, phase shifter data load and dump


LNA functional check using surface return

Health check

On-board computer ROM/RAM function check


Instrument power off

Table 7: Summary of PR operational modes


VIRS (Visible Infrared Scanner)

VIRS is a NASA/GSFC instrument, built by Hughes SBRC, a passive cross-track scanning radiometer which measures scene radiance in five spectral bands: 0.63 µm (±0.05), 1.6 µm (±0.03), 3.75 µm (±0.05), 10.8 µm (±0.05), and 12 µm (±0.05). The horizontal resolution is 2 km at nadir. The telescope is a two-mirror Cassegrain-type focusing the image onto five collocated detectors, each with its own bandpass interference filter. Spectral separation: discrete filters mounted on a cooled focal plane. Swath width = 720 km (FOV=±45º).

Applications: Data will be used in conjunction with data from CERES to determine cloud radiation. VIRS will enable "calibration" of precipitation indexes derived from data from other sources (rain estimation from brightness temperature). Data rate = 50 kbit/s (day) = 28.8 kbit/s (night), instrument mass = 34.5 kg, power = 40 W. In-flight radiometric calibration is provided by an on-board blackbody, a solar diffuser, and a space view for a zero radiance calibration reference. Radiometric accuracy of at least 5% in the thermal bands and 10% in the visible region. 56) 57) 58) 59)

Figure 21: Detailed view of Visible Infrared Scanner (image credit: NASA)
Figure 21: Detailed view of Visible Infrared Scanner (image credit: NASA)
Figure 22: Schematic view of the VIRS instrument (image credit: NASA)
Figure 22: Schematic view of the VIRS instrument (image credit: NASA)
Figure 23: Illustration of the VIRS instrument (image credit: NASA)
Figure 23: Illustration of the VIRS instrument (image credit: NASA)


TMI (TRMM Microwave Imager)

TMI is a NASA instrument built by BSS (Boeing Satellite Systems). TMI is a passive multichannel/dual-polarized microwave radiometer (heritage of SSM/I on DMSP series) with frequencies in five discrete channels at 10.7, 19.4, 21.3, 37.0, and 85.5 GHz. Resolution (IFOV): 7 km x 5 km to 63 km x 37 km depending on the frequency used. TMI is a conically scanning radiometer, maintaining a nearly constant Earth incidence angle throughout the scan. Swath width = 780 km. 60)

TMI detects microwave energy in the form of brightness temperatures from the Earth's surface and atmosphere.


The 9 channels on TMI allow for simultaneous retrieval of SST (Sea Surface Temperature), wind speed, columnar water vapour, cloud liquid water, and rain rate. TMI is crucial for determining the diurnal dependence of the bulk-skin SST difference. The inclusion of the new 10.7 GHz channel on TMI provides the additional capability to accurately measure SST through clouds. Data is related to rainfall rates over oceans (vertically integrated rainfall distribution). Data rate = 8.8 kbit/s, instrument mass =65 kg, power = 50W. 61)

Channel No

1 & 2

3 & 4


6 & 7

8 & 9

Frequency (GHz)







V, H

V, H


V, H

V, H

Bandwidth (MHz)






IFOV (km x km)

63 x 37

30 x 18

23 x 18

16 x 9

7 x 5







Table 8: Performance parameters of TMI

TMI consists of nine separate total-power radiometers, each simultaneously measuring the microwave emission coming from the Earth's surface with the intervening atmosphere. The channels are defined in Table 8. TMI employs an offset parabolic reflector (antenna aperture size of 61 cm) to collect microwave radiation. The reflector focuses the radiation into two feedhorns (at 10.7 the other for the 19-85 GHz). The reflector and feedhorns spin as a unit about an axis parallel to the S/X nadir direction. The rotation period is 1.9 s. A cold-space mirror and a warm reference load are attached to the spin axis and do not rotate. The rotating feedhorns observe the fixed cold mirror and warm load once each scan for calibration purposes. 62) 63)

Earth observations are taken during a 130º segment of the rotation. The 130º arc is centred on the S/C sub-track and maps out a 760 km swath on the Earth's surface. During each scan, the 10.7-37 GHz observations are sampled 104 times over the 130º arc. The 85 GHz observations are at a higher spatial resolution and are sampled at 208 observations/scan.

The antenna beam views the earth's surface with a ‘‘nadir'' angle of 49º, which results in an incident angle of 52.8º at the Earth's surface. The TMI antenna rotates about a nadir axis at a constant speed of 31.6 rpm. The rotation draws a ‘‘circle'' on the earth's surface. Only 130º of the forward sector of the complete circle is used for taking data. The rest is used for calibrations and other instrument housekeeping purposes. From the TRMM orbit, the 130º scanned sector yields a swath width of 758.5 km.

During each complete revolution (i.e., a scan period of about 1.9 s), the subsatellite point advances a distance d of 13.9 km. Since the smallest footprint (85.5 GHz channels) size is only 6.9 km (down-track direction) by 4.6 km (cross-track direction), there is a ‘‘gap'' of 7.0 km between successive scans. However, this is the only frequency where there is a small gap. For all higher-frequency channels, footprints from successive scans overlap the previous scans. The ‘‘footprint'' size here is the EFOV (Effective Field of View).

Figure 24: The footprint sizes of the various TMI channels (image credit: NASA)
Figure 24: The footprint sizes of the various TMI channels (image credit: NASA)
Figure 25: Line drawing of the TMI instrument (image credit: NASA)
Figure 25: Line drawing of the TMI instrument (image credit: NASA)


CERES (Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System)

CERES is an EOS program NASA-funded instrument provided by NASA/LaRC [instrument heritage of ERBE (Earth Radiation Budget Experiment)]. The objective of CERES is to study the energy exchanged between the sun, the Earth's atmosphere, surface and clouds, and space. CERES measures the energy at the top of the atmosphere, it also permits energy level estimates within the atmosphere and at the Earth's surface. Using information from very high-resolution cloud imaging instruments on the same spacecraft, CERES also determines cloud properties, including cloud amount, altitude, thickness, and the size of the cloud particles. All of these measurements are critical for advancing our understanding of the Earth's total climate system and further improving climate prediction models.

CERES provides geolocated broadband shortwave and total (shortwave and longwave) filtered radiances as well as narrowband filtered radiances in the 8 to 12 µm water vapour window region. The CERES detectors (thermistor bolometers) sense radiances in the broadband shortwave and total spectral regions. Daytime longwave radiances are derived from the differences between the total and shortwave bolometer measurements while the nighttime longwave radiances are derived from the total bolometer measurements, with the nighttime shortwave radiances equal to zero.


Shortwave range

Total range


Spectral region

0.3 - 5.0 µm

0.3 - 100 µm

8 - 12 µm

Scene levels

<100 Wm-2 sr-1

>100 Wm-2 sr-1

<100 Wm-2 sr-1

>100 Wm-2 sr-1

All levels


0.8 Wm-2 sr-1


0.6 Wm-2 sr-1


0.3 Wm-2 sr-1

Table 9: CERES instrument accuracy requirements (1σ)

CERES on TRMM has a 46-day repeat cycle (precessing orbit of 350 km altitude and an inclination of 35º), cycle so that a full range of solar zenith angles over a region is acquired every 46 days. On TRMM, CERES has a spatial resolution of approximately 10 km (equivalent diameter) and operates in three scan modes: cross-track, along-track, and rotating azimuth plane (RAP) mode. In RAP mode, the instrument scans in elevation as it rotates in azimuth, thus acquiring radiance measurements from a wide range of viewing configurations. The CERES instrument on TRMM was shown to provide an unprecedented level of calibration stability (0.25%) between in-orbit and ground calibration]. Unfortunately, the CERES/TRMM instrument suffered a voltage converter anomaly and only acquired 9 months of science data. 64) 65)

CERES calibrations.

The instrument can perform flight calibrations while operating in the fixed azimuth (cross-track) or rotating azimuth plane scan mode. During flight calibrations, the internal calibration sources are cycled on and off via a programmed sequence of commands while the instrument continues to perform a normal Earth scan profile. Earth measurement data taken during internal calibrations are also included in the archival science data.

Figure 26: Illustration of the CERES instrument (image credit: NASA)
Figure 26: Illustration of the CERES instrument (image credit: NASA)


LIS (Lightning Imaging Sensor)

LIS is a NASA/MSFC instrument, PI: H. J. Christian. LIS is an EOS-funded instrument. Objective: Measurement of lightning distribution and variability over the Earth, its correlation with rainfall, and its relationship with the global electric circuit.

Measurement approach:

LIS is an optical staring telescope/filter imaging system that detects the rate, position, and radiant energy of lightning flashes. LIS detects intracloud and cloud-to-ground lighting with storm-scale resolution.


study of mesoscale phenomena such as storm convection, dynamics, and microphysics.

These will be related to global rates, amounts, and distributions of convective precipitation, as well as to the release and transport of latent heat, which is all influenced by global-scale processes.

Further applications are:

cloud characterization, hydrologic cycle studies, storm convection, microphysics and dynamics, and seasonal and interannual variability of thunderstorms. 66) 67) 68) 69) 70) 71)

The LIS instrument consists of two main elements:

a) a telescope with a CCD detector matrix,

b) the real-time data processing unit.

LIS uses an expanded optics wide-FOV lens, combined with a narrow-band interference filter that focuses the image on a small, high-speed CCD focal plane.

- special filter to image at 777.4 nm (OI line) onto a 128 x 128 high-speed CCD array detector

- event processor to subtract out the bright background during daylight (sensor records data during day and night)

- location coverage of lightning flashes within 5 km over a FOV of 600 km x 600 km

- spatial resolution: 5 - 10 km

- temporal resolution: 2 ms

Accommodation parameters:

view direction: nadir, instrument mass: 20 kg, power: 30 W, data rate: 8 kbit/s, FOV: 80º x 80º, IFOV: 0.7º. 72) 73)

Figure 27: Illustration of the LIS instrument (image credit: NASA)
Figure 27: Illustration of the LIS instrument (image credit: NASA)


Primary products of TRMM mission data

• Average monthly rainfall over the tropics and subtropics for at least 3 years

Secondary Products:

• Cloud cover (VIRS, CERES)

• Rain rates (TMI)

• Rain rate vertical profile (PR)

• Path-averaged rain rate and liquid water content (PR)

• Lightning distribution and variability (LIS)

Data Validation Program:

• Rain rate spatial distribution (surface radars)

• Rain rate point measurements (in situ measurements)


Total Precipitation Rate

Spatial Average

Time Average


Climate models

500 x 500 km

monthly mean

1 mm/day (10% in heavy rain)

Diurnal cycle over ocean

20º longitude


10% first harmonic amplitude 20% second harmonic amplitude

General circulation model vertical distribution

500 m



Tropical rain systems structure and evolution

20 km


30 - 50%

Table 10: TRMM scientific accuracy requirements



TRMM instrument observations


Cloud properties


Radiative energy fluxes







Vegetation dynamics


Surface temperature



Surface temperature



Land ice change


Sea ice


Snow cover


Table 11: Uses for the data collected by the TRMM instruments



1) "The Early Observing System Reference Handbook, ESAD Missions 1990-1997," NASA/GSFC, pp. 62-64

2) T. Keating,T. Ryan, "Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM): US/Japan Science Operations," AIAA-92-0594



5) S. Shinsuke, "TRMM Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission," URL:

6) T. Kubota, M. Kachi, R. Oki, S. Shimizu, N. Yoshida, M. Kojima, K. Nakamura, "Rainfall Observation from Space - Applications of Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) and Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM)Mission," Proceedings of ISPRS (International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing) Technical Commission VIII Symposium, Kyoto, Japan, Aug. 9-12, 2010, URL:


8) C. Kummerow, J. Simpson, O. Thiele, W. Barnes, A. T. C. Chang, E. Stocker, R. F. Adler, A. Hou, R. Kakar, F. Wentz, P. Ashcroft, T. Kozu,, Y. Hong, K. Okamoto, T. Iuchi. H. Kuroiwa, E. Im, Z. Haddard, G. Huffman, B. Ferrier, W. S. Olson, E. Zipser, E. A. Smith, T. T. Wilheit, G. North, T. Krishnamurti, K. Nakamura, "The Status of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) after Two Years in Orbit," Dec. 2000, URL:



11) S. Bilanow, S. Slojkowski, "TRMM On-Orbit Performance Reassessed after Control Change," Proceedings of 25th ISTS (International Symposium on Space Technology and Science) and 19th ISSFD (International Symposium on Space Flight Dynamics), Kanazawa, Japan, June 4-11, 2006, paper: 2006-d-35, URL:

12) Ryan Connelly, Molly Porter, "Earth's New Lightning Capital Revealed," NASA, May 2, 2016, URL:

13) Rachel I. Albrecht, Steven J. Goodman, Dennis E. Buechler, Richard J. Blakeslee, Hugh J. Christian, "Where are the lightning hotspots on Earth?," BAMS (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society) 2016, doi:10.1175/BAMS-D-14-00193.1, in press, URL od preliminary version:

14) Kaya Kanemaru, Takuji Kubota, Misako Kachi, Riko Oki, Toshio Iguchi, Yukari N. Takayabu, "A decadal variability of semi-global precipitation by TRMM PR," Proceedings of the IGARSS (International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium) 2015, Milan, Italy, July 26-31, 2015

15) "TRMM Spacecraft Re-enters Over Tropics," NASA, June 16, 2015, URL:

16) "TRMM ends its 17 years of observations," JAXA, June 22, 2015, URL:

17) "Re-entry and Risk Assessment for the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM)," NASA Orbital Debris Program Office, June 4, 2015, URL:

18) J. D. Harrington, Ashley Morrow, "The TRMM Rainfall Mission Comes to an End after 17 Years," NASA, April 9, 2015, URL:

19) "About TRMM/PR data distribution during experimental operation period," JAXA/EORC, Feb. 20, 2015, URL:

20) Rob Gutro, "NASA Satellite Data Shows Hagupit Dropped Almost 19 Inches of Rainfall," NASA, Dec. 10, 2014, URL:

21) "TRMM," JAXA, URL:

22) "Goodbye to TRMM, First Rain Radar in Space," NASA, Oct. 31, 2014, URL:

23) "TRMM Precipitation Radar Data Suspended," NASA, Oct. 9, 2014, URL:

24) Rani Gran, "NASA Rainfall Satellite Out Of Fuel, but Continues to Provide Data," NASA/GSFC, August 25, 2014, URL:

25) "Deadly Philippine Flooding And Landslides," NASA, January 17, 2014, URL:

26) "TRMM Lifetime Predictions," NASA/GSFC, July 30, 2013, URL:

27) Elizabeth Ritchie (Chair), Ana Barros, Robin Bell, Alexander Braun, Richard Houghton, B. Carol Johnson, Guosheng Liu, Johnny Luo, Jeff Morrill, Derek Posselt, Scott Powell, William Randel, Ted Strub, Douglas Vandemark, "NASA Earth Science Senior Review 2013," June 14, 2013, URL:


29) "NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission Turns 15," NASA, Nov. 27, 2012, URL:

30) Michael H. Freilich, "TRMM, Hydrologic Science, and Societal Benefit: The Role of Satellite Measurements," TRMM 15th Anniversary Symposium, Tokyo, Japan, Nov. 12, 2012, URL:

31) Scott Braun, "TRMM Accomplishments After 15 Years," TRMM 15th Anniversary Symposium, Tokyo, Japan, Nov. 12, 2012, URL:

32) Daniel J. Cecil, Dennis E. Buechler, Richard J. Blakeslee, "Gridded lightning climatology from TRMM-LIS and OTD: Dataset description," Atmospheric Research, Elsevier, Available online 15 July 2012, URL:

33) George Hurtt (Chair), Ana Barros, Richard Bevilacqua, Mark Bourassa, Jennifer Comstock, Peter Cornillon, Andrew Dessler, Gary Egbert, Hans-Peter Marshall, Richard Miller, Liz Ritchie, Phil Townsend, Susan Ustin,"NASA Earth Science Senior Review 2011," June 30, 2011, URL:

34) Scott A. Braun, "TRMM Senior Review Proposal," Executive Summary, 2011, URL:


36) Rob Gutro, "TRMM Satellite Totaled Cyclone Yasi's Heavy Rainfall In Queensland," NASA/GSFC, Feb. 7, 2011, URL:


38) Laboratory for Atmospheres - 2010 Technical Highlights, NASA/TM—2011–215877, July 2011, "TRMM," p. 28-29, URL:

39) Rob Gutro, "Hurricane Season 2010: Tropical Storm Magda (Southern Indian Ocean)," NASA, Jan. 22, 2010, URL:

40) Julio L. Marius, Jim Busch, "Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Satellite Ground System Automation Utilizing Goddard Mission Services Evolution Center (GMSEC)," SpaceOps 2008 Conference (Hosted and organized by ESA and EUMETSAT in association with AIAA), May 12-16, 2008, AIAA 2008-3202


42) R. K. Kakar, S. P. Neeck, "Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Program Status," 7th GPM International Planning Workshop, Tokyo, Japan, Dec. 5-7, 2007, URL:

43) S. Braun, "TRMM Status," 7th GPM International Planning Workshop, Tokyo, Japan, Dec. 5-7, 2007, URL:

44) S. Zielinski, "US Rainfall Satellite Mission in Flux," EOS Transactions of AGU, Vol. 86, No 44, Nov. 1, 2005, p. 430


46) B. Berger, "Japan and NASA Agree to End TRMM Operations by 2004," Space News, July 19, 2004. p. 18

47) B. Berger, "NASA Plan to End TRMM Mission Spurs Backlash, Debate," Space News, July 5, 2004, p. 3

48) Christian Kummerow, William Barnes, Toshiaki Kozu, James Shiue, Joanne Simpson, "The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) Sensor Package," Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology, Volume 15, Issue 3, June 1998, URL:

49) Courtesy of K. Maeda, JAXA (former NASDA)

50) T. Kozu, M. Kojima, K. Oikawa, K. Okamoto, T. Ihara, T. Manabe, "Development Status of Rain Radar for Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission," IEEE IGARSS `92, Volume II, pp. 1722-1724

51) NASA paper provided by ESAD and OSSA.

52) H. Kuroiwa, T. Kawanishi, M. Kojima, K. Oikawa, T. Kozu, "Precipitation radar onboard TRMM satellite," IEEE International Symposium on Phased Array Systems and Technology, Vol. , Issue , 15-18 Oct 1996 pp.249 - 254.

53) N. Takahashi, T. Kawanishi, M. Kojima, K. Oikawa, H. Kuroiwa, K. Okamoto, T. Kozu, M. Okumura, H. Nakatsuka, K. Nishikawa, "Two year operation of the Precipitation Radar (PR) onboard TRMM satellite," Proceedings of IGARSS 200, Honolulu, HI, USA, July 24-28, 2000


55) T. Kozu, et al., "TRMM Precipitation Radar: Calibration and Data Collection Strategies," Proceedings of IGARSS `94, Volume IV, pp. 2215-2217


57) D. Roberts, B. Peterson, B. Koseluk, "TRMM VIRS: a design for low radiation space environments," Proceedings of Aerospace Applications Conference, 1994 IEEE Vol., Feb 5-12, 1994 pp.199-209

58) L. Giglio, J. D. Kendall, C. J. Tucker, " Remote sensing of fires with the TRMM VIRS," International Journal of Remote Sensing, Vol. 21, No 1, Jan.10, 2000, pp. 203-207

59) R. A. Barnes, W. L. Barnes, C.-H. Lyu, J. M. Gales, "An Overview of the Visible and Infrared Scanner Radiometric Calibration Algorithm," Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology, Vol. 17, Issue 4, April 2000, pp. 395-405, URL:

60) "TRMM Microwave Imager (TMI)," URL:

61) C. L. Gentemann, F. J. Wentz, "Satellite Microwave SST: Accuracy, Comparisons to AVHRR and Reynolds SST, and Measurement of Diurnal Thermocline Variability," Proceedings of IGARSS/IEEE 2001, Sydney, Australia, July 9-13, 2001

62) F. J. Wentz, P. D. Ashcroft, and C. L. Gentemann, "Post-launch calibration of the TMI microwave radiometer," IEEE Trans. Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Vol. 39, No 2, pp. 415-422, Feb. 2001

63) F. J. Wentz, "A well-calibrated ocean algorithm for SSM/I," Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol 102, No C4, pp. 8703-8718, 1997

64) N. G. Loeb, N. Manalo-Smith, K. Loukachine, S. Kato, B. A. Wielicki, "Advances in Top-of-Atmosphere Radiative Flux Estimation from the Clouds and the Earth's Radiant Energy System (CERES) Satellite Instrument," Proceedings of IGARSS 2002, Toronto, Canada, June 24-28, 2002


66) H. J. Christian, R. J. Blakeslee, S. J. Goodman, "Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) for the Earth Observing System," NASA Technical Memorandum 4350, 1992, URL:

67) H. J. Christian, R. J. Blakeslee, S. J. Goodman, D. A. Mach, M. F. Stewart, D. E. Buechler, W. J. Koshak, J. M. Hall, W. L. Boeck, K. T. Driscoll, D. J. Boccippio, "The Lightning Imaging Sensor," URL:

68) EOS Reference Handbook, NASA/GSFC, 1993



71) "Global Lightning Observations," URL:

72) Z. Kawasaki, S. Yoshihashi, "TRMM/LIS observations of Lightning Activity," Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Atmospheric Electricity (ICAE), June 7-11, 1999, NASA/CP-1999-209261, pp. 176-179


The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (

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