Sunday, February 20, 2011
A NASA satellite is poised to begin a mission of understanding as it studies the earth's atmosphere and it's reaction to the Sun's output.
NASA's Glory spacecraft will join several current satellites in orbit known as the A-Train as they research the composition of the earth's atmosphere, or "biosphere and climate", according to Goddard Space Flight Center.
"Data from the Glory mission will allow scientists to better understand how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth's climate," NASA's George Diller stated from the launch site.
Two science instruments aboard Glory will be trained on several layers of the atmosphere, the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM) and the Aerosol Polarimetry Sensor (APS).
Built by the University of Colorado, TIM will be pointed toward the Sun as it measure just how much solar energy is emitted and passed into the atmosphere of our planet.
Meanwhile, APS will be trained on the measurements and identity of the aerosols which collect and pass into the upper layers of the atmosphere, including dust and dirt from storms and black carbons.
Using a rotating mirror and six small telescopes, the APS will be used to "collect visible, near infrared, and short-wave infrared data", Goddard added.
Both instruments will be activated about four weeks following launch. The first data samples will then be received the next day at NASA's Goddard near Greenbelt, Maryland.
Every sixteen days of the spacecraft's multi-year mission, Glory will shift it's orbit every 233 revolutions of the earth as it sweeps and scans the atmosphere.
The Afternoon Train (A-Train) is a satellite constellation of seven science spacecrafts which travel in close proximity with each other as they circle the earth once every 100 minutes. Glory will become the sixth of the seven planned.
Launch of an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL 3110 rocket with Glory is set for Wednesday at 5:09:43 a.m. EST (2:09 a.m. local time) from space launch complex 576-East at Vandenberg, AFB in California. The exact launch time is set for the middle of a 48 second launch window.
This ninth flight of a Taurus rocket comes exactly two years following it's last flight which ended in failure when the payload fairing did not separate away from the craft minutes into the flight.
The ninety-one foot tall rocket consists of four solid fueled stages.
The Thiokol-built first stage will burn for the first 83 seconds of flight, followed by the second stage ignition and burn for the next 73 seconds of flight. The third and fourth stages burn at just over a minute each.
Glory will separate from Taurus' upper stage at 5:22 a.m. as it soars in a polar orbit.
Glory weighs 1,157 pounds (525 kilograms) and once in space, the satellite will measure 6 feet across from solar array tip to solar array tip and nearly five feet long.
In addition to Glory, three small cube science satellites will be launched.
NASA's Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) is a program in which colleges and universities can fly their own experiment into low earth orbit using a CubeSat.