NASA geared up for critical environmental satellite launch

NASA’s Glory satellite will monitor atmospheric impact of aerosols

nasa glory
NASA is set to launch a new satellite that will help scientists measure the impact of aerosols on the Earth's climate.

According to NASA its Glory satellite is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Feb. 23 at 5:09 a.m. EST. It will join a fleet the squadron of satellites that orbit the Earth known as the Afternoon Constellation or "A-train." of satellites. The A-Train satellite formation includes other NASA environmental tracking satellites Aqua, CloudSat, CALIPSO, and Aura.  The Orbital Science-built Glory will fly in a low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 438 miles.

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Glory will carry new technology designed to unravel some of the most complex elements of the Earth system. The mission carries two primary instruments, the Aerosol Polarimetry Sensor (APS) and the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM). APS will improve measurement of aerosols, the airborne particles that can influence climate by reflecting and absorbing solar radiation and modifying clouds and precipitation, NASA stated.  

According to NASA: "Aerosols, or the gases that lead to their formation, come from vehicle tailpipes and desert sands, from sea spray and fires, volcanic eruptions and factories. Even lush forests, soils, or communities of plankton in the ocean can be sources of aerosols. These ubiquitous particles fall on our skin, layer the surfaces of our food, and linger in our air. No matter how much we scrub, vacuum, or clean, we'll never be able to seal ourselves off from them.  It's the small, fine and ultrafine aerosols that pose the greatest threat to our health. While larger particles (such as sea salt) tend to fall rapidly from the air, smaller ones remain aloft and can work their way into the lungs and bloodstream, fueling a variety of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases."

Scientists expect the TIM device to bolster a decades-long data record of the solar energy striking the top of Earth's atmosphere, or total solar irradiance, NASA stated.  APS will collect data at nine different wavelengths, from the visible to short-wave infrared, giving scientists a much-improved understanding of aerosols. The instrument, NASA's first Earth-orbiting polarimeter, will help scientists distinguish between natural and human-produced aerosols. The information will be used to refine global climate models and help scientists determine how our planet is responding to human activities, the space agency stated.

NASA said that while scientists have concluded that solar variability is not the main cause of the warming observed on Earth in recent decades, the sun has historically caused long-term climate changes. "Having a baseline of the solar energy that reaches Earth gives us a way to evaluate future climate changes. Better measurements of total solar irradiance give scientists another way to test their climate models and understand the sun's longer cyclical changes and how they may impact the climate."

After launch, mission operators at Goddard Space Center will conduct verification tests then collect data for at least three years.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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