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SPIRIT III Rocket - Glory Spacecraft - DANDE Spacecraft


A spacecraft measuring the affects of solar flux and carbon aerosols on the atmosphere. Launch date set for March 4th, 2011 - 3:09am MST!

UPDATE, 3/4/11, 4:00am MST: The Glory rocket vehicle began under-performing at T+500 seconds and failed to hit the proper trajectory that would put the spacecraft into orbit. Initial evidence suggests that the protective fairing surrounding the spacecraft failed to deploy making the rocket too heavy for the final stage to reach orbital velocity.

The thing about earth-observing missions is that they're not an assembly-line type of spacecraft. The state-of-the-art instruments aboard take a while to design / build, and years to characterize so that they would yield valuable data. The instruments are so pristine that no two act in the same way (even if the design is identical) and it takes a significant amount of effort to prove that accuracy is indeed on the order of parts-per-million. It's a major blow to the climate modeling industry, the Glory mission was structured around studying the variables which are least known by scientists. It's also a blow to the thousands who have worked late nights on Glory for the past decade.

Wise engineers always say to prepare yourself mentally for the event of a launch I understand why. After years of work on the Glory spacecraft, it now rests peacefully on the ocean floor.

The temperature of our atmosphere is a complex balance between the energy delivered from the sun / earth and the energy radiated away. Global climate research suggests that this balance not stable leading to what we know politically as global climate change. A difficulty with global climate research however is that there are many crucial variables where very little information is known. These poorly characterized factors lead to high levels of error within global climate models.

The Glory mission aims to tackle two of these global climate unknowns: 1) The total solar irradiance from the sun over long time periods to a high precision, (ie the Sun's brightness); 2) Detect/quantify of aerosol particles (ie natural and man-made black carbon soot / dust) that are aloft in the earth's atmosphere and how these vary seasonally. The Glory spacecraft will fly among an already orbiting constellation of spacecraft in what is called the A-train, or the Afternoon-Train. Here a series of in-line spacecraft scan each part of the earth in unison to allow the data correlation.

For two years, I worked among thirty engineers at the University of Colorado Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics to design, build and test the Total Irradiance Monitor(TIM), one of the two primary instruments on Glory. The device works by literally staring at the sun and measuring the heat flux that's radiated onto a set of black surfaces. Sounds simple, however to obtain an accuracy on the order of parts-per-million, there are many issues to deal with such as: How do you ensure accuracy as the dark material fades over time? How do you point the instrument directly at the sun? How do you measure the aperture cross sectional area, on orbit temperature fluctuations, assembly contamination...etc each of which distorts the data?. My task was to manage and control the 400+ requirements that were written to ensure that this state-of-the-art instrument correctly resolved these issues. While on the project, I analyzed documents, performed inspections or created testing plans that would verify these requirements. The task had a wide range of disciplines ranging from mechanical, electrical, software, calibration/characterization and integration.

At the Glory Spacecraft Critical Design Review at NASA in the Washington DC Area, July 2006. This review is a major milestone for the spacecraft development team where an external review board approves the general design and enables the flight manufacturing phase.

Working on the TIM Flatsat, or a perfect electrical/mechanical mock-up of the instrument's electronics. When performing a unique test on a flight hardware, it is first done on this equipment to ensure the safety of the flight hardware. During this particular occasion I am running a test that verifies how the software gathers data from a sun sensor and commands the instrument to fine-tune its orientation with respect to the sun, (within fractions of a degree). This flatsat system (located in the metal boxes on the table) will remain in place until Glory's de-commissioning and will be used to test on-orbit scenarios.

At a TIM vibration test, here the full instrument is strapped to a vibrating table where the g-loads of the expected launch vehicle is exerted on the hardware. Several methods are utilized to determine the health of the structural system before and after the test to verify that the instrument will survive (similar to my PhD work).

My last personal moment with the instrument, here I am in the clean room preparing the hardware for transit to Virginia for spacecraft integration at Orbital Sciences Corporation. The instrument is wrapped like a birthday present with several layers of "bagging" to prevent contamination such as fingerprints, oils from your hand or particulates. Note that just a single drop of oil / sweat in the vacuum of space will vaporize, the question is on what surface will it re-condense on?

For Further Information Visit:

Images - Kennedy Media Archive (Best)

Images - NASA Missions Page

Science Summary - NASA Missions Page

Glory Science Homepage

Glory Homepage

Pictures of Rocket Build-up / launch:

There are hundreds of pictures online of the Glory satellite, I've pulled the best ones and put in some commentary:

The first (bottom) stage arriving at the launch facility. This stage uses solid fuel in which the fuel is cured or dried inside the of the skin and is VERY heavy. Note the size of the lifting structure and the number of axles on the truck. The Space Shuttle uses solid rocket boosters (the two white rocks that jettison a few minutes into the flight). Image Credit: NASA

Here three of the four stages of the rocket are aligned together at the launch facility. This is done to perform final electrical and mechanical checks before the rocket is assembled vertically. Image Credit: NASA

The Glory spacecraft is arriving at the launch facility. The payload is encapsulated in this stout cleanroom box. Not shown in this picture are the supporting equipment that maintains a clean supply of air to the payload maintaining a positive pressure inside the box (that way containment only exit instead of entering). Image Credit: NASA

The lid on the transport box is coming off. Notice how the spacecraft is wrapped for contamination control. Image Credit: NASA

The satellite has one final checkout test (for what would seem to be the millionth time, note the cables) and is being integrated into the fairing. Note how the spacecraft is bolted to the floor. The last thing you want is the payload sliding around as the fairing is attached, the instruments are aligned to the spacecraft to a precision measured in arc-minutes, and the solar panels are quite minor bump can disrupt all of this. Also, satellites have tipped over during integration before... lesson learned! Image Credit: NASA

The second half of the faring is being attached, this is a slightly emotional moment as it is the last time the spacecraft is in view. A good time to double check to make sure all the clean room bagging, tape markings, and lense covers are removed (believe it or not, this has been a problem before and is why these items are so boldly marked). On another note, the last time this particular rocket launched, a mechanism on the fairing failed to deploy which jettisons it once above the atmosphere. Unfortunately the extra weight prevented the spacecraft from reaching orbit and crashed into the ocean near Antarctica 17 minutes after launch ...bummer. I bet the paperwork for this step was extra detailed.Image Credit: NASA

The satellite enclosed in its fairing arrives at the launch site. Currently being offloaded for final testing with the launch vehicleImage Credit: NASA

The first stage is hoisted and installed on the launch pad. Image Credit: NASA

The upper portion of the rocket (2nd-4th stages) after final horizontal assembly. Image Credit: NASA

The decals of the rocket close up! Image Credit: NASA

The upper portion of the rocket is lifted to the vertical positionImage Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

More pictures to come as they are released!

Glory has cubesats too! ELaNa

Glory has another neat feature, hidden at the bottom of the third stage is a cavity to support the launch of three, 1kg cubes built by student groups. This is the first time NASA has engaged in launching student cubesats on science missions and hopefully the trend will be continued! The Colorado Space Grant Lab competitively won a launch slot on this rocket which is coincidentally the same lab I work at on the DANDE spacecraft. It has been a pleasure to watch this payload come together over the past two years.

The CU Cubesat on display, (on the roof of the engineering center)Image Credit: The University of Colorado

The CU Spacecraft with the two other winners (in order: Univ of Colorado, Univ of Kentucky, and Montana State University) Image Credit: NASA

The cubesats are loaded into their protective case (called a P-Pod)Image Credit: NASA

Final Check Image Credit: NASA

The thermal coating is applied to the outside of the cubesat P-PodImage Credit: NASA

The P-Pod is attached right next to the third stage engine (no wonder why there is so much thermal shielding! Image Credit: NASA

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