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NASA sends Glory satellite to West Coast launch site

After a cross-country road trip, NASA’s Glory climate monitoring satellite arrived at a California military base Tuesday in preparation for a Feb. 23 launch on a Taurus rocket.

The $424 million mission will study the link between climate, the sun and atmospheric aerosols. Launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, a Taurus XL rocket will propel Glory into polar orbit to join the “A-train” formation of Earth observation satellites at an altitude of 438 miles.

Next month’s mission is the first flight of the Taurus rocket since a launch mishap brought down another NASA climate satellite in February 2009. The launcher’s nose cone did not jettison as planned in that flight, weighing down the rocket as it soared into space and preventing it from reaching the required speed for orbit.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory spacecraft was lost in the failure.

A NASA board of inquiry could not identify a specific reason for the anomaly, but officials noted four possible issues that could have caused the fairing separation failure. The board also recommended corrective actions.

Glory will use an identical version of the Taurus as OCO.

Officials have cleared the Taurus rocket to launch Glory, according to Sarah DeWitt, a spokesperson at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, which manages the mission.

The launch vehicle readiness review was held Dec. 6, DeWitt told Spaceflight Now.

Glory’s launch was delayed more than a year after the Taurus launch failure. A problem with one of the spacecraft’s solar array drive assemblies forced another schedule slip from last fall.

The satellite was shipped to California by truck over the weekend from Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va. Orbital built the spacecraft and is Glory’s launch provider.

Preparations are on track for liftoff Feb. 23 at 1009 GMT (5:09 a.m. EST; 2:09 a.m. local time).

Crews will move the first segment of the four-stage Taurus rocket to the launch pad Jan. 18. The upper three stages will go to the pad Jan. 25, according to NASA.

Technicians will do final testing on the Glory payload and fill the spacecraft with hydrazine propellant later this month. The satellite will be enclosed inside the rocket’s clamshell-like payload fairing and transported to the launch pad in the first week of February.

Engineers working inside a tent will attach the nose cone to the Taurus upper stage, then a crane will lift the top segment of the rocket atop the first stage booster Feb. 15, a NASA press release said.

Glory’s mission is expected to last at least three years, collecting data on the sun’s influence on the climate and microscopic particles in the atmosphere.

“The scientific knowledge gained from Glory will have a significant impact on our understanding of natural and human influences on climate,” said Hal Maring, Glory program scientist at NASA Headquarters.