The satellite, called Glory, will watch the sun and the Earth’s atmosphere simultaneously to see how they interact. The six-foot-tall satellite comes equipped with instruments to measure the amount of solar energy that strikes the top of the atmosphere, and measure the concentration of small droplets and particles called aerosols that float suspended in the atmosphere.
Atmospheric scientists know that aerosols play a role in shaping the planet’s overall climate, but exactly how they do this is unclear. Aerosols can directly warm or cool an area of the Earth by absorbing heat from the sun or reflecting sunlight into space. They can also indirectly influence climate by serving as the seeds of clouds, and changing clouds’ properties like brightness, how long they last and how much they rain.
The particles can come from natural sources, like volcanoes, sandstorms, forest fires and sea spray, or from human activity, such as burning fossil fuels or clearing land by burning plants. Glory’s mission is to sort out which particles are which by analyzing the physical direction of light reflected off the droplets. The satellite’s measurements will provide data for climate models to learn how each aerosol works.
Glory is scheduled to lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California at 2:09 am Pacific time in the middle of a 48-second long launch window. The launch was originally scheduled for 2:09 Wednesday morning, but a technical glitch forced engineers to scrub the launch at the last minute.
“We were in safe mode, and externally received signal to go into safe mode. We don’t quite understand why that occurred,” said assistant launch manager Chuck Dovale in an interview on NASA TV. “We’re going to troubleshoot in the next few hours, and certainly won’t continue until we understand it.”
Image: An artist’s representation of Glory in orbit. Credit: NASA