This morning one of the most important (and most delayed) satellite launches in ages took place. The mission was to launch the Glory satellite into a polar orbit, where three key instruments would have been looking at solar irradiance, aerosols and clouds. Unfortunately, one of the stages failed to separate and the satellite did not make orbit.
The irradiance measurements were to be an important continuation of the SORCE mission results, and are needed to stably continue the Total Solar Irradiance (TSI) timeseries. However the big new measurements were those associated with the Aerosol Polarimeter Sensor (APS). A similar instrument has flown in space twice before (the French-developed POLDER instrument), but unfortunately only for short periods. Its uniqueness lies in its ability to detect aerosols over bright surfaces (like land), and more importantly, to distinguish what kind of aerosols it is seeing. (Update: There is a third POLDER instrument, PARASOL, that is currently in orbit, see comments).
It may seem surprising, but despite many different attempts, almost all remote sensing of aerosols from space is only capable of detecting the total optical depth of all aerosols. MISR can provide some discrimination in special cases (picking out dust via a retrieval of non-spherical particles, or using the single scattering albedo to distinguish black carbon), but overall the estimates mix up sulphates, dust, black carbon, sea salt, nitrates and secondary organics. These originate from different processes, have different properties and different impacts on both radiation and clouds. Sea salt comes from sea spray over the oceans, dust from dry desert areas, black carbon from burning of forests and fossil fuels, sulphates derive from ocean plankton and burning coal, nitrates derive from fertiliser use, car exhausts and lightning, and secondary organics come from the stew of volatile organic compounds from industrial and natural sources alike. There are also pollen, and fat particles from outdoor cooking etc.
Because we can’t easily distinguish what’s what from space, we don’t have good global coverage of exactly how much of the aerosol is anthropogenic, and how much is natural. That uncertainty is a big player in the overall uncertainty in the human caused aerosol radiative forcing. Similarly, we have not been able to tell how much of the aerosol is capable of interacting with liquid or ice clouds (which depends on the different aerosols’ affinity for water), and that impacts our assessment of the aerosol indirect effect. These uncertainties are reflected in the model simulations of aerosol concentrations which all show similar total amounts, but have very different partitions among the different types.
The APS technology is a big step forward on these issues. It turns out that while the reflected SW from many different aerosols is similar, the polarisation of that reflected light depends quite strongly on what kind of aerosol it is. This varies depending on the angle at which the light is shining, So by scanning through the angles and measuring the polarisation, we can get a better constraint on the distribution of key aerosols. Scientists have already been working with aircraft mounted versions of the instrument, and this will continue.
The story of how this launch actually happened is very long and twisted, and needless to say, has taken far longer than anyone envisaged at the start (over a decade ago). With the failure to make orbit this morning, the wait will unfortunately go on.
This is of course a huge setback for the mission team (many of whom I know), and I can only imagine how frustrating this must be. The loss of OCO two years ago was due to a similar problem, though 3 launches since then have been successful (and the same system is being replicated as OCO-2). With the postponement of CLARREO in the proposed 2012 budget, there is a huge hole building in the US contribution to Earth and Sun observing systems.
Working from space is hard, expensive and risky. We cannot take it for granted, and yet we need that information more than ever.
70 Responses to "Glory (not to) be"
Donald A. Brown says
Good description of unknowns about aerosols. Curious of what you think might be at stake here from finally pinning down climate sensitivity.
Thomas Lee Elifritz says
I am of the opinion that the solid rocket boosters used in these vehicles are simply too abusive to the electronics and instrumentation. They were originally designed for high g force hypersonic reentry vehicles which were their own extremely rugged payload shrouds.
It’s well past time to move beyond these launchers.
Kirk Knobelspiesse says
As a small clarification, a third version of the French satellite, POLDER (called PARASOL) was launched in 2004 and remains in orbit.
APS, however, would have observed many more scattering angles, meaning a much improved ability to determine cloud optical properties along with aerosols. Furthermore, APS would have a wider specular range, which would have improved the ability to differentiate aerosols from the effects of ground reflectance.
In any case, this is quite a tragedy.
[Response: Thanks for the clarification. And, yes, it is. – gavin]
This was the first Taurus XL launch since the OCO launch failure. Virtually the same failure mode, despite hardware changes. My condolences to the excellent Glory team.
Can’t say I’m surprised.
Jussi Leinonen says
As far as I understood, it was not a problem of stage separation, but instead the rocket’s nosecone didn’t release properly. With the additional weight of the cone, the rocket couldn’t reach orbit.
“Similar problem” seems like an understatement – as far as is currently known, this was the exact same problem as that in the case of OCO. The rocket manufacturer spent over a year trying to fix it. As such, it’s an unusual space failure, as it came from a source that everyone totally did see coming.
Edouard Bard says
This failure is indeed extremely unfortunate for the scientific community as a whole.
Concerning the continuation of solar irradiance measurements, note that the French satellite Picard was launched successfully last June from Russia:
My heart goes out to the mission team. What a disaster.
Doug Clark says
Really unfortunate. Maybe NASA has enough spare parts that they won’t have to start from scratch.
Jaime Frontero says
An absolute tragedy.
The 2009 Orbiting Carbon Observatory launch failure (same Taurus XL rocket, same problem) was equally such – and is now tentatively scheduled for a 2013 re-launch. I doubt Glory will secure any more timely re-launch window – if any.
These missions are important, and there should be live backup satellites ready to go – as is typical for commercial missions.
Reality is that nothing will even be looked at until after the 2012 elections – and only then if the Democrats are considerably more successful at the polls than in 2010: which looks likely, given recent Republican insanities: but who knows?
Isn’t it wonderful – having our lives and planet dependent on the voting acumen of the average U.S. citizen, and upon the amounts of cash which those who manipulate the process are willing to spend?
Twas sad when the great ship went down .
Has Brin volunteered to haul up a spare ?
Ike Solem says
Gosh, didn’t the exact same technical failure happen in 2009? What a coincidence. However, the last thing we want to do is criticize NASA – let alone float any ‘conspiracy theories.’
The less data you collect on global warming, the more room there is for a handful of denialists to claim that it isn’t really happening – that’s been the story on ocean warming for the past decade, hasn’t it? There is also the still-mothballed Triana – but wait, has it been scrubbed entirely?
“The White House is requesting $47 million in fiscal year 2012 to convert a climate satellite grounded by politics into an observatory to monitor space weather and warn of solar storms.” (Feb 2011)
U.S. science programs are turning into little more than bad jokes, it seems. This is simply the inevitable result of the political and commercial control of science that is such a hallmark of the past few decades – Lysenkoism is the best description of it. Of course, you’ll find plenty of people acting as apologists for the system, but what else can they do if they want to keep their academic-government careers intact?
[Response: Grow up. This is nothing but a tragedy, and using this is pile on some ongoing issue you have with something or other is juvenile. Of course, current procedures for getting instruments into space are sub-optimal, of course, contractual issues are frustrating, of course things get in the way of doing science, but conspiracy mongering? Leave that for the idiots at WUWT. – gavin]
David Graves says
Meanwhile, over at the Wall St. Journal, readers are commenting on the story with hoots of derision that the satellites were ever built in the first place. I guess if you can’t measure it, it must not be happening….
Mr. Peabody says
Denialists doesn’t need to sabotage satellites for the simple reason that they won’t believe the data produced by the satellites anyway.
Really sad to hear this. The urgency for better data does not change the inherent risky process of putting people or satellites into orbit. It’s unfortunate that this loss or delay of valuable information that would support solid policy shift on mitigating climate change and reducing impacts including saving human lives, is not given more meaningful coverage in mainstream press. It reflects the confusion that websites like this one are doing such good work to address. Here’s to new and reinvigorated efforts to support another mission or equivalent soon.
I’m curious if new projects are looking at SpaceX as a future supplier for the launcher? Their cheaper and their success rate so far has been great for such a young company. I know getting through NASA hoops could be substantial though (although didn’t they get the ISS resuply contract).
Karen Kohfeld says
Yes, this is terribly frustrating for the Glory team and the scientific community. Gavin, you’ve done an excellent job at explaining the importance of this particular satellite. Has realclimate ever done (or considered doing) an entry about the immense contribution that satellite measurements have made in the past two-three decades, in helping us to understand various components of the earth system (e.g., vegetation, ozone, ice sheet mass, water vapor content, temperature, sea level height, storms, aerosols, etc.)? The failed launches probably stand out in our minds disproportionately. It might be useful to juxtapose them with the many successes and immeasurable knowledge we have gained from other programs such as this one.
Ray Ladbury says
When I got to work today and heard the news, I said, “F**K! We need to start building some submersible satellites.”
Roger R. Hill says
The “Heat” generated by political discourse on climate science is fierce as anybody knows. Having been scorched by the mental denial community, I have to wonder aloud “Foul Play?”
Lets just stick to discussion of the science and stop the paranoia with WUWT. It just gives more publicity ..
Was the satellite insured?
SpaceX have their own issues too; remember they had three straight failures with the F1. It’s largely a matter of luck that the first two F9 flights went as smoothly as they did (for sufficiently rough definitions of “smooth”).
While it’s definitely bad to repeat a failure mode in consecutive flights, the truth is that getting to orbit is simply damned hard to do, and plain old bad luck has an outsized influence on things.
Hank Roberts says
Ya know, since there’s clearly a need for working raw materials in near Earth orbit, and we’re not going to catch an asteroid any time soon — perhaps it would be worth putting some loads of say water ice, or sheet metal, or nitrogen tanks, or something cheaper than a satellite, and making some test shots of this vehicle until they know for sure the fairing will pop off.
If they get the raw material up there, someone could probably go get it and use it (heck, put a beacon on it and sell it to the Indian or Chinese astronauts). And if the fairing fails again, well, no great extra loss.
“Orbital Sciences Corp. subsequently modified the fairing design, based on analyses by a NASA panel that reviewed the OCO launch failure.
“The original version of the Taurus rocket used hot, pressurized gas to break frangible joints that hold the fairing in place, beginning a process that ends when pistons push the fairing pieces away …. The revised version used in today’s Glory launch used cold, compressed nitrogen gas to break those frangible joints. Orbital Sciences Corp. uses the same system in its Minotaur rocket, which has launched successfully three times in the last year.” — NYT
Sounds like the same design but not exactly the same parts — the vehicles are different sized, I think.
Some things, you don’t want to just trust are fixed, you want to verify they’re fixed before using them.
Chris O'Dell says
@16. SpaceX actually was a bidder for the OCO-2 launch; the Taurus XL was officially selected last June after a selection process. Part of the problem with the SpaceX bid was that they can’t launch from Vandenberg (for some reason I’m not sure about). So they’d have to launch from Kennedy in Florida, and launching into the A-train from Kennedy is sketchy because you launch to the southwest, and it was deemed that the Caribbean is too populated and therefore this constituted too high a risk. There was an alternative to launch from the Kwajalein atoll in the Pacific, but for logistical reasons this option was also ruled out. So they/we went again with Orbital. Now, God knows what will happen.
My sincerest condolences to the Glory team. This is really tragic; almost comically so given the OCO launch 2 years ago.
Seems that you maybe suggesting that we don’t know what the aerosols are doing.
For example, Mount Pinatubo injected significant quantities of aerosols and dust into the stratosphere, and then what?
If the dust is still up there, what can you infer with regards to climate sensitivity?
Apparently SpaceX was originally going to have a spot at Vandenberg’s SLC 3 back in 2005 but got pushed out by Lockheed-Martin, at least according to this old story at space.com. So they don’t have any infrastructure at VAFB.
Hank Roberts says
> Mount Pinatubo … If the dust is still up there
“Now if it was, it might be; and if it were, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t, so there. That’s logic.” — Tweedledum
Mount Pinatubo as a Test of Climate Feedback Mechanisms (2003)
“The June 15, 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption was a large but relatively short- lived shock to the Earth’s atmosphere. It thus provided an excellent opportunity to study the workings of the climate system, to test climate models, and to examine the impacts of climate change on life. The largest eruption of the 20th Century inspired a large amount of research on the connection between volcanic eruptions and the Earth’s atmosphere in the 12 years since that eruption, as exemplified by the chapters in this book. Here several additional examples of our new understanding of these connections are presented….”
Really sorry to hear about this Dr. Schmidt. Gut wrenching really.
Particles from the Pinatubo eruption will be in the stratosphere forever, according to brownian motion.
The cloud of dust had a cooling effect, and when it broke down, the climate system bounced back as if the eruption hadn’t even taken place.
That may suggest a low climate sensitivity, thats all. A bit like the YD, the system bounced back and continued on its way to the holocene, as if the YD never happened!
chris colose says
Various combinations of surface, balloon, and satellite measurements have quantified the distribution and optical properties of aerosols for Chichon and Pinatubo, but even for these eruptions observations are not complete. See some of the SAGE results for example.
We know volcanic aerosols only last a relatively short amount of time in the air, and thus their direct effect on the reduction in solar radiation at the surface lasts only a brief time, although (perhaps lesser known), volcanoes do carry a very long-term signature in the deep ocean. Another confirmation test would be to use a time series of stratospheric temperature as a proxy in this regard, since the stratosphere warms at volcanic eruption peaks due to the absorption of longwave radiation from below and also near-IR absorption.
In terms of climate sensitivity, if you ask different people you’d probably get different opinions, but I don’t think they are very useful as a diagnostic for sensitivity constraints.
David B. Benson says
Isotopious @29 — Err, no. Consider a random walk with an absorbing barrier [in the sulfate case, the troposphere]
Hank Roberts says
> that may suggest
‘Iso’ is rebunking five year old misinformation. Yawn.
Ray Ladbury says
Uh, no. Volcanism favors a sensitivity right around 3 K/doubling. You know, you could look this stuff up.
Vendicar Decarian says
“While it’s definitely bad to repeat a failure mode in consecutive flights, the truth is that getting to orbit is simply damned hard to do, and plain old bad luck has an outsized influence on things.” – 22
When was the last back to back failure of a launch?
I am not a conspiratorialist, but everyone here is asking themselves if this could be sabotage.
So I will say it publicly. It probably was Sabotage.
I bet some good little Republican “Patriot” on the assembly team rigged the canopy to fail, and that is why the engineering team couldn’t fix the design flaw.
Edward Greisch says
24 Chris O’Dell: Vandenberg is Air Force and polar launches, I think. Look at http://maps.google.com/ for Vandenberg AFB, CA. It has a clear shot to the south over deep water. From Kennedy in Florida, the Panama Canal and the western tip of South America are in the way. We also have a launch complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska, but I think it is for SDI [Star Wars] only.
I am reading Grant W. Petty’s “A First Course in Atmospheric Radiation.” Gavin: How do the aerosols polarize sunlight? I know some materials do strange things to light. That kind of experiment gives amazing results. I haven’t seen the explanation yet.
A story of the insulative properties and heat conductance of snow vs. ice could be nice.
Tom Scharf says
Really a bummer.
I’m an admitted skeptic, but I also worked on defense related satellites many moons ago, and I can sympathize with the crushing feeling of having something you worked so hard and so long on go down so dramatically.
The design team for the failing cone is not having a good week one can assume, and I would not be surprised if this cone design it totally scrapped. More delays.
I support these efforts 100%, as much of my skepticism comes from the overstatements made based on inadequate data IMO, and this type of effort is exactly what is needed.
To the engineering team, take heart, there will be better days ahead.
Particles from the Pinatubo eruption will be in the stratosphere forever, according to brownian motion. Then why aren’t the particles from billions of years of eruptions still up there too? Surely if they were they would block all light getting through the atmosphere.
I am really sorry to hear about the loss of the Glory. Will they try again?
When I first began to notice the global warming debate, I read articles that mocked NASA’s mission of studying global warming. Now I read about the satellites and learn a lot. All those government agencies have really interesting articles.
I am glad that NASA studies global warming and doesn’t only go to other planets. Sometimes we start out with one goal, but REALITY shows us that we need to take a different path. Saving our own planet is more important than visiting other planets. This is where we have evolved, and we have to take care of our home.
I have written about Rusalka, a Russian satellite that studies greenhouse gasses.
A video and news article in Vesti about Rusalka appeared in the Russian media.
If you use the Google translation tool to read the Vesti “Mermaid” article, you will be able to understand most of what the authors are explaining as you view “A Mermaid Hovers Over Russia” (“Русалка” парит над Сибирью). I explain it a bit here.
It really enrages me when stupid Amerian politicians quote the Russians claiming that global warming is not a big problem. Don’t the politicians listen to what real experts show them at all instead of what Russian propagandists and morons with institutes housed in mailboxes at parcel post boxes say?
Although the Russian authorities may downplay their concerns because they don’t really have any good solutions, they are very concerned about the economic consequences of the thawing because much of Russia’s natural gas and oil is extracted from the permafrost. They are also concerned about the problems of migrants coming to Russia. They are not so worried about the humanitarian issues in other people’s countries, but they are studying how global warming will affect Russia.
Russia expert Paul Goble (6-20-07) reports:
“A new study, prepared at the request of the Russian security agencies, concludes that global warming is likely to make it impossible for Moscow to continue to export oil and gas at current rates and thus over the next decade or more will undermine the foundations of Russia’s economic recovery and international standing…
Russia…faces a variety of threats from global warming, ranging from the possible influx of immigrants from countries becoming too hot to the loss of access to its oil and gas fields as a result of the melting of the permafrost in many petroleum-rich regions of the Russian north.”
Some American politicians don’t want NASA to send up satellites that study “polar bears,” so I point out that the Russians have Rusalka.
Some American politicians say that we should not let the CIA study the national security implications of climate change, but the Russian state security has hired scientists to study climate change.
Iso@29 & David @31.
Particles that are heavier than the medium they are embedded in will have a net drift in the direction of the gravitational gradient. Rather than a random walk, you would have a random walk, but biased in the negative z direction.
Must be tough to have been waiting for data from Glory to use in one’s research. I imagine quite a few researchers will have to change their plans.
Fred Magyar says
Sad indeed! Though I’m going to bet there are a few people out there who are gloating over this event and will use it to denigrate climate science and scientists. Not to mention that as we move forward in time and as our empire continues to decline, I’m sure it will become harder and harder to get funding for any science that goes against the prevailing interests of TPTB. It will become less and less likely that this country will remain in the forefront of any science… Welcome to the new dark ages!
Ray, Hank, I can think for myself thankyou. It always bounces back, so it’s probably negative.
38 “Then why aren’t the particles from billions of years of eruptions still up there too?”
Maybe not forever, but a long time, although nano particles probably are still up there. The smoke from the eruption would be precipitated out eventually, and probably plays some role in the formation of Noctilucent cloud.
As Lindzen has pointed out, with regards to aerosols, even the sign is in question. It seems any number of variables could contributed to warming, which makes one wonder whether any of them have a significant effect.
[Response: Assuming that something uncertain implies we know nothing is standard contrarian fare. There is *no* question about whether the sulphate aerosols emitted by Pinatubo were a cooling effect – we have direct radiative flux measurements through both the SW and LW. There is very high confidence that the net 20th C aerosol effect was a cooling – mostly because estimates of tropospheric sulphate aerosols dominate the changes, and because BC and OC changes for many sources almost balance out. As for Pinatubo aerosols, the residence time for such particles is around 3 to 4 years before they are advected/settle out the stratosphere – there are effectively none left. – gavin]
Eli Rabett says
#35 The polarization of reflected and refracted light depends on polarization
I agree. Getting to space is extremely hard. The reason why I’m asking about SpaceX is their new and they haven’t been weened on Cost plus contracts that encourage over budget projects. So far they’ve done a good job in keeping costs down and they’re bolstering the New Space industry (Mojave, Bigelow and all the suborbital ventures).
My point (for the climate community) is that a company like SpaceX is more likely to leverage the contract in order to develop cheaper access to space as well as developing in space capabilities (I know this one is a few years away). Not only is it cheaper right now, but the future upside is larger.
Michael Klein says
I think it should be policy that whenever a scientific satellite is built, a duplicate should be built as well. It shouldn’t cost much more to build two or even three than to build just one. Accidents like this happen, and we need to be better prepared for them.
Mmmh, wondering if launches of climate-change related satellite missions have a higher failure rate (at a statistically significant level) compared to other missions ? Thinking of OCO in 2009 etc
Orr would this just be a conspiracy theory ?
Vendicar Decarian @34
Hey, if you’re willing to throw money away…
What’s far more likely is that the OSC guys found and fixed the fault that caused the original failure, and the fairing on this flight failed to separate for a completely different reason than on the previous flight.
Random failures are random. Just because the odds of flipping heads is 50% doesn’t mean you can’t flip 50 heads in a row.
I mean, invoking ZOMG CONSPIRACY for this failure is every bit as silly as the idiotic Apollo hoax “theories”.
Hank Roberts says
Folks, please, do check: http://www.google.com/search?q=Vendicar+Decarian
one of the net’s best known experts in facilitated digression; dftt.
The loss of this satellite was undeniably heart breaking as the data it was to supply is critical to our understanding of important climate issues. My heart goes out to the whole mission team, the scientific community who were anxiously awaiting working with the data, the American people, and really the world community affected by climate issues.
But what do we do now? How do we move on and make try to ensure that something positive (no matter how small) might come from this?
1)Completely abandon the use of this type of launch vehicle for any such launches in the future, unless a complete overhaul and redesign of the failed mechanisms is instituted. There are more reliable launch vehicles.
2) Given design, engineering, machining, and construction costs, it is more cost effective (in the long run) to parallel build two identical satellites that are both ready for launch at approximately the same time. With the failure of one, the other could be ready for launch in a few weeks to a few months, (but not a few years!) It is rather expensive insurance to do this, but the research teams and programs that are in place, or ready to be in place are also a consideration, and the costs of re-assembling these teams must also be factored in the parallel build model. Additionally, even with a successful launch of a satellite, there can be failures that occur before the useful life of the satellite has come, and these failure can of course cause disruptions and discontinuities in the data. With a parallel build, this disruption caused by the early death of a satellite would be minimized. With such a parallel build, the costs are of course more, but not 100% more, and so, it makes sense. Parallel build of course is a tough sell in tough budget environments, but needs to be looked at and presented as an excellent value in insurance of mission success, especially when the data supplied is vital.
3) There is what I see as an anti-science, anti-Nasa, and related anti-government theme existing amongst some in the general population, and though these voices are for the moment, a minority, they can be a loud minority at times. Those of us who believe in the value of what Nasa does and of the value of high-level climate science in general need to make sure that we continually counter those loud minority voices with our own constant messages (especially to our elected officials) of how essential and vital Nasa and climate research are to our county in general. Setbacks like the failure of Glory can only help the anti-science, anti-Nasa crowd if we let their voices remain the loudest.
I would hope that those working on projects such as ICESat II think about the lessons of Glory’s failure. It is not too late into that project’s cycle that a parallel build model could not be instituted. It would take some strong political effort to make this happen, but perhaps Glory’s failure could show how the funding of this parallel construction “insurance” is a smart use of money for the collection of vital science data.
6 Mar 2011 at 2:44 PM
Orbital, which launced the failed Glory satellite, also launches military satellites.
So, if science is competing with military in the same 3rd party corporation, whom do you think has edge?
Given constraints on budget considerations, I’d say science is the odd man out.