Launch Failure: Satellite Intended to Study Global Warming Is Lost

By Eliza Strickland | February 24, 2009 8:04 am

carbon satelliteThe launch of the first satellite dedicated to studying carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere has failed, NASA is reporting. Says NASA spokesman Steve Cole: “The mission is lost…. At this point no one is exactly sure what the cause is” [Bloomberg].

The $278 million satellite, called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, blasted off last night from California’s Vanderberg Air Force Base at 1:51 a.m. local time aboard a Taurus XL rocket. “Several minutes into the flight of the Taurus rocket carrying NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory spacecraft, launch managers declared a contingency after the payload fairing failed to separate,” the space agency said in a statement [Reuters]. The fairing is a clamshell-like structure that shelters the payload as the rocket screams upward through the atmosphere.

The Taurus XL is the smallest ground-launched rocket currently in use by the US space agency. The rocket has flown eight times, with two failures including this launch…. The four-stage Taurus XL rocket is manufactured by Orbital Sciences Corporation, based in Virginia [BBC News].

UPDATE at 10:30 a.m. EST:

An official from Orbital Sciences explains that because the protective fairing didn’t detach, the rocket wasn’t able to reach orbit. “As a direct result of carrying that extra weight we could not make orbit,” said John Brunschwyler, the Taurus program manager with manufacturer Orbital Sciences Corp [Reuters]. Instead, the rocket and satellite probably splashed down in the Pacific Ocean near Antarctica. NASA will convene an investigative committee to determine the exact causes of the malfunction.

The satellite was intended to measure levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas driving global warming. It would have investigated how much carbon dioxide is absorbed each year by the planet’s forests and oceans, a question that climate scientists are eager to answer as they struggle to predict the future impacts of global warming. “For the science community it’s a huge disappointment,” NASA launch director Chuck Dovale said [Reuters].

Related Content:
80beats: Satellite Blasting Off Tomorrow Will Fill in Big Piece of the Climate Puzzle

Image: NASA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Space
  • shanu

    really unacceptable to have this sort of failure. What a waste of hard work and money. Next time get the russians to launch your payloads. 😉

  • David

    Dam those oil companies.

  • Kelly

    When I saw the headline, I thought – This will be great fuel for conspiracy theorists.

    Thank you, David, for verifying that hunch so promptly. 😛

  • Darrell


  • http://TwoSistersArtandSoul Lisette Root

    What a sad event, so much potential knowledge lost. Let’s try again, as soon as practical, to launch another satellite to gather atmospheric data.


    This wasnt an accident

  • CincyJeff

    Hey, conspiracy theorists! We’re suppose to believe that NASA has been infiltrated by moles from Exxon Mobil? It could be a sh*tty plot for a for a TV movie, with unintended comedic value! You could have Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney lurking around the launch tower with a monkey wrench.

  • Charles Breneman

    I remember when NASA or Kraft said “failure was not an option”, I ask you how many satellites have been sent into orbit and their shields successfully released. Somebody screwed up big time, lucky he wasn’t a US Air pilot flying an 320 Airbus. Maybe somebody should find the problem and fix it quick before we return to the late fifties and early sixties space program of embarrassments.


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