Tuesday, February 24, 2009

NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory Launch fails

NASA's $273 million Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite crashed into the ocean near Antarctica shortly after launch today from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., atop an Orbital Sciences Corp. Taurus XL booster. Telemetry indicated a protective nose cone fairing failed to separate early in the climb to space, weighing the rocket down and preventing the spacecraft from reaching orbit.

The 986-pound satellite's four-stage solid-fuel Taurus XL rocket blasted off at 4:55:30 a.m. EST and roared away from its Vandenberg launch pad about five minutes behind schedule because of a minor technical glitch. The ascent appeared normal and telemetry indicated all systems were working as planned through the first stage burn, stage separation and second stage ignition.

Seven seconds after the second stage fired up, the satellite's protective clamshell nose cone was commanded to separate. The 63-inch-wide carbon composite fairing is designed to separate in two pieces and fall away using small pyrotechnic devices that are activated by a series of electrical pulses.

While engineers were studying telemetry, the Taurus XL's third and fourth stage motors ignited as planned. But it soon became clear the fairing was still in place and that its weight was preventing the rocket from accelerating normally.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory was designed to study natural and man-made carbon dioxide emission and absorption to help scientists assess how the greenhouse gas might be contributing to global warming.

A Taurus is scheduled to launch another NASA environmental research satellite - Glory - later this year. Officials said today it's too early to say how the mishap might affect those plans.

This was the eighth launch of a Taurus XL rocket and the second mission failure. It was NASA's first mission using the solid-fuel rocket after a certification process intended to ensure safety and reliability.

Source info and image.


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