Engineers and technicians at Vandenberg Air Force base, Calif., are preparing the Earth observing satellite Glory for launch on Feb. 23. In orbit, the satellite's two science instruments will study key aspects of the climate that will help make it possible to produce more accurate global and regional climate models. Last week, a team from Orbital Sciences Corporation stowed the Glory spacecraft in a protective nose cone called the payload fairing. The payload fairing, a two-pieced and bullet-shaped part, will shield Glory from the intense aerodynamic pressures and heating that Glory's launch vehicle will encounter during its ascent.
After the successful completion of these encapsulation operations, Glory was transported to an outdoor processing tent near the launch pad. Following its arrival, engineers attached the satellite and payload fairing to the third stage of a Taurus XL, the four-stage, solid-fuel launch vehicle that will propel Glory into orbit. At first glance, the Glory spacecraft might look unassuming. At 1.9 meters (6.2 feet) by 1.4 meters (4.6 feet), Glory is neither the largest nor the heaviest of NASA’s Earth-observing satellites. The whole of the Glory spacecraft which is set to launch from Vandenberg on Feb. 23 at 2:09 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (PST) is not much taller than most people or wider than an oil barrel. It weighs about 528 kilograms (1,164 pounds), about half the weight of a vintage Volkswagen Beetle.
Despite its small size, Glory will deploy an innovative aerosol sensing instrument called the Aerosol Polarimetry Sensor (APS) that many specialists predict will produce dramatic improvements in measuring airborne particles, as well as an important sensor that will help maintain a 32-year record of the sun's irradiance. And, in Glory's case, the value of the mission exceeds that of its parts because the spacecraft will fly in formation with a group of other Earth observing satellites known as the A-Train. For most people, "A-Train" likely conjures up visions of jazz legend Billy Strayhorn or perhaps New York City subway trains rather than climate science, but the little-known convoy of satellites has emerged as a critical tool for climatologists.