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NASA to launch Earth-observing satellite mission

01-21-2011 09:14 BJT

WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced Thursday that its newest Earth-observing research mission is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Feb. 23.

The Glory mission will improve NASA's understanding of how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth's climate. Glory also will extend a legacy of long-term solar measurements needed to address key uncertainties about climate change. It will join a fleet called the Afternoon Constellation or "A-train" of satellites. This group of other Earth-observing satellites, including NASA's Aqua and Aura spacecraft, flies in tight formation.

"Glory is going to help scientists tackle one of the major uncertainties in climate change predictions identified by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: the influence of aerosols on the energy balance of our planet," said Michael Freilich, director of NASA's Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "This mission also marks the first satellite launch under President Obama's climate initiative that will advance the United States' contribution to cutting-edge and policy-relevant climate change science."

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.

TIM will extend a decades-long data record of the solar energy striking the top of Earth's atmosphere, or total solar irradiance. 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.

Glory will fly in a low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 438 miles, about the distance from Boston to Washington. After launch, mission operators will conduct verification tests for 30 days and then begin to collect data for at least three years.

Editor:Zheng Limin |Source: Xinhua

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