EarthCARE is ESA’s third Earth Explorer Core Mission, with JAXA providing one instrument. The mission facilitates unique data product synergies, to improve understanding of atmospheric cloud–aerosol interactions and Earth radiative balance, towards enhancing climate and numerical weather prediction models. This paper will describe the payload, consisting of two active instruments: an ATmospheric LIDar (ATLID) and a Cloud Profiling Radar (CPR), and two passive instruments: a Multi Spectral Imager (MSI) and a Broad Band Radiometer (BBR). ATLID is a UV lidar providing atmospheric echoes, with a vertical resolution of 100 m, up to 40 km altitude. Using very high spectral resolution filtering the relative contributions of particle (aerosols) and Rayleigh (molecular) back scattering will be resolved, allowing cloud and aerosol optical depth to be deduced. Particle scatter co- and cross-polarisation measurements will provide information about the cloud and aerosol particles’ physical characteristics. JAXA’s 94.05 GHz Cloud Profiling Radar operates with a pulse width of 3.3 μm and repetition frequency 6100 to 7500 Hz. The 2.5 m aperture radar will retrieve data on clouds and precipitation. Doppler shift measurements in the backscatter signal will furthermore allow inference of the vertical motion of particles to an accuracy of about 1 m/s. MSI’s 500 m pixel data will provide cloud and aerosol information and give context to the active instrument measurements for 3-D scene construction. Four solar channels and three thermal infrared channels cover 35 km on one side to 115 km on the other side of the other instrument’s observations. BBR measures reflected solar and emitted thermal radiation from the scene. To reduce uncertainty in the radiance to flux conversion, three independent view angles are observed for each scene. The combined data allows more accurate flux calculations, which can be further improved using MSI data.