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NASA’s Glory Satellite Back On Track

November 23, 2010

Engineers at Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Va., have successfully replaced a faulty component that could have had serious consequences for the Glory satellite, NASA’s next climate-monitoring mission. In June, Glory engineers noticed a problem with one of the solar array drive assemblies, or SADAs, that appeared initially like it would take five or six months to repair.

However, nimble responses from two engineering companies contracted by the Glory team — New York City-based Honeybee Robotics and California-based Moog Chatsworth — have resolved the problem in little more than two months instead.

“Both Moog and Honeybee really stepped up when we needed it most. They put a lot of personnel and extra effort into this to get us back up and running,” said Glory’s Deputy Observatory Manager Michael Bruckner. “To fix the problem, we used a new component called a twist capsule. The part hadn’t been flight-qualified, but we managed to design, build, and qualify it all in about two months. This is an unbelievable accomplishment.”

Glory is now scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force base in California aboard a Taurus XL launch vehicle no earlier than Feb. 23, 2011.

Two instruments aboard Glory — the Aerosol Polarimetery Sensor (APS) and the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM) — will supply scientists with information about critical components of Earth’s climate system. The APS, a polarimeter mounted on the underside of the Glory spacecraft and facing downward, will collect data on airborne particles called aerosols. Aerosols can affect the climate by warming or cooling the atmosphere depending on their type, as well as modifying the behavior of clouds.

The TIM, located on the opposite side of the spacecraft, will face toward the sun and measure the intensity of incoming solar radiation at the top of the atmosphere. It will help maintain a thirty-plus year satellite record of the sun’s irradiance, which can change subtly over time due to changes in the sun’s magnetic field.

Glory will take its place among a series of Earth-observing satellites, dubbed the Afternoon Constellation or A-Train, that orbit the planet in a cluster at the same altitude and inclination. The close proximity of satellites on the A-Train allows researchers to easily compare data from complementary science instruments flying on adjacent satellites.

Orbital Sciences Corporation is responsible for Glory integration and testing, the Taurus XL launch vehicle, and spacecraft operations. The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado provided and will operate the TIM instrument. Raytheon provided the APS instrument, which will be operated by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City.

Image Caption: Artist’s concept of Glory satellite in flight. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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