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Posted at 05:02 PM ET, 03/07/2011

Glory climate satellite fails: information & reactions


(Artistic rendering of the Glory satellite. Source: NASA )
The oft-delayed launch of the climate research satellite, Glory, failed this morning according to NASA. The satellite was to collect data on the properties of tiny particles in the atmosphere or aerosols, including black carbon. It was also to obtain data on solar intensity to better understand the sun’s long-term effects on the Earth’s climate.

The space agency reported that:

* The satellite did not reach orbit due to failure of the rocket’s fairing to separate. The fairing covers and protects the spacecraft during launch and ascent

* The satellite’s remains are likely in the South Pacific but the exact location is not yet known.

* Its previous launch attempt of an Earth science spacecraft, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory onboard a Taurus XL on Feb. 24, 2009, also failed to reach orbit when the fairing did not separate.

* It has begun the process of creating a Mishap Investigation Board to evaluate the cause of the failure.

The Associated Press (AP) reported the cost of the mission was $424 million

The satellite was give to scientists a much better tool to measure tiny natural and manmade particles, also known as aerosols, than any previous satellite NASA said. Aerosols are a key uncertainty in the understanding of climate change.

Some aerosols, such as black carbon, have a warming effect adding to the warming effect from manmade greenhouse gas emissions. Other aerosols, which are white and highly reflective such as sulfates, have a cooling effect. The combined direct and indirect effect of all aerosols (white, black, natural and manmade) on the Earth’s climate is a major area of scientific inquiry.

“Undoubtedly, greenhouse gases cause the biggest climatic effect. But the uncertainty in the aerosol effect is the biggest uncertainty in climate at the present,” said climate research Michael Mishchenko climate researcher in an article about the scientific goals of the mission.

NASA climate researcher Gavin Schmidt and blogger at RealClimate.org called the mission “one of the most important (and most delayed) satellite launches in ages.”

In particular, Schmidt lamented the loss of Aerosol Polarimeter Sensor (APS) which would have helped scientists better decipher which aerosols in the atmosphere were natural and which were manmade.

“The APS technology is a big step forward on these issues,” he wrote.

He concluded his blog post stating, “Working from space is hard, expensive and risky. We cannot take it for granted, and yet we need that information more than ever.”

Here’s a video of the failed launch....

By  |  05:02 PM ET, 03/07/2011

Categories:  Climate Change, Latest, Science

 
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