From the Death Star to Deep Space Nine, no self-respecting sci-fi space station has ever had to go without lasers. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the real world. Thankfully, that discrepancy is about to be rectified, as the International Space Station (ISS) is due to be outfitted with a devilish-sounding laser of its own: CATS.
Contrary to what you might expect, CATS is neither an attempt to fire actual felines at Earth from space or a cryptic reference to a gone-but-not-forgotten video game from 1989. CATS actually stands for Cloud Aerosol Transport System, and rather than blasting planets out of the sky, it'll actually help keep airplanes aloft by blasting Earth's atmosphere instead.
Small particulates in the air, referred to as aerosols, can cause severe issues for airplanes when they occur in large quantities. The eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano, for instance, dispersed so many of these particulates that trans-Atlantic flights were grounded as a precaution. Emitting 5,000 laser pulses per second at wavelengths of 1064, 532 and 355 nanometers, CATS will be able to tell just how dense and dangerous a particulate cloud is by firing into it and watching for backscatter. The unique vantage point of the ISS will allow CATS to scour the globe for dangerously dense clouds of aerosol particles and alert at-risk flights before they're caught unaware. The laser hardware will be flown to the ISS aboard SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft on September 12th, weather and particulates permitting.
Via Universe Today