Launching of NASA’s newest tool for climate change detection, the 400+ million dollar ‘Glory’ satellite, has been delayed due to a problem with a control mechanism in one of its two solar arrays.
The launch was scheduled for late November 2010, but will now be postponed until late February, 2011. Glory is an important mission for climate science. It will specialize in monitoring two key factors in climate change: aerosols in the atmosphere, and total solar irradiance.
NASA’s Glory satellite mission to monitor key variables that impact our Earth’s climate will be postponed 3 months from its original November, 2010 launch date in order to repair a faulty solar array panel. A 2009, carbon observatory satellite mission failed to deploy properly in space.
The fully operational Glory satellite will implement two key pieces of equipment: The Aerosol Polarimetry Sensor, will measure both naturally occurring and human-caused aerosol pollution. The Total Irradiance Monitor will gather data on short-term, solar-driven mechanisms that effect our Earth’s “energy budget”.
Much of what the craft detects in the future will have significant impact on our understanding of our planet’s energy budget, and, additionally, the seasonal variations and chemical properties of aerosols. This data will in turn supply better inputs for climate simulations providing more accurate forecasts and help shape climate change policies.
Aerosols are particulate matter of both natural (such as nitrogen oxides and dimethyl sulfides) and human origin (CFCs, black soot); they can reflect heat, or trap heat, depending upon their chemical makeup, size (from microscopic to black flakes) and altitude in our atmosphere. Some, like ozone (O3), have both natural and anthropogenic causes.
Solar irradiance refers to the amount of sunlight (electromagnetic energy) the hits the Earth. Though there is what’s known as a solar constant (the total solar radiation that hits a given area of earth on a line perpendicular to the Sun), this irradiance does fluctuate within a certain range (suitable for life) and according to several factors both natural and artificial — from air pollution and cloud cover to solar flares and the Earth’s axial tilt.
NASA’s previous satellite research tool, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO, launched in February, 2009), failed when a fairing (the structure that protects the payload from heat/pressure) failed to separate.
Though sometimes a payload’s fairing is unavoidably damaged during ascent, engineers try to take every precaution and plan for any scenario. if a solar array fails to deploy properly, the craft’s power supply (to run those fancy detectors) can become compromised, jeopardizing the mission. NASA engineers aren’t taking any chances with this mission–one which will replace the lost OCO capabilities and continue to provide real-time data about our dynamic climate system for the next decade or more.
Want to know more about aerosols?
Check out my previous article, Limiting Black Soot and Ozone – Buying Time Against Climate Change, archived on Ecolocalizer.com
Want to know more about solar irradiance? Here’s a good informational link to one of my favorite blogs, the UniverseToday.
Want to know more abut the glory satellite mission? Visit NASA’s Glory page.
top photo: Kennedy Space Center
second photo: NASA