The loss of Glory

by Milan on March 4, 2011

in Climate change, Climate science

Satellites intended to study the climate seem to have especially bad luck.

In March of last year, the fairing on the rocket launching the Orbiting Carbon Observatory failed to operate properly, causing the satellite to crash in Antarctica.

Today, NASA’s Glory satellite was destroyed when the Taurus XL booster meant to heave it into orbit malfunctioned.

Further basic scientific work to improve our understanding of the climate system is critical, making it all the more regrettable that these two tools didn’t make it into orbit at their appointed times.

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. March 5, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Science Satellite’s Crash Leaves NASA ‘Devastated’ — and Flummoxed

A NASA satellite designed to study aerosols’ influence on climate and measure solar energy failed to reach orbit this morning. The crash marks the second time in two years that a NASA climate satellite has failed to launch.

A similar problem with the Taurus XL rocket’s fairing caused the launch failure of another satellite, the $273 million Orbiting Carbon Observatory, in February 2009. That was the last time NASA used the Taurus XL as a launch vehicle (ClimateWire, Feb. 25, 2009).

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 and the satellite moves into orbit.

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.

The failure of the Glory launch may have broader implications, both for NASA’s plans to launch a copy of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory and for its overall budget.

The satellite, known as OCO-2, is being prepared for launch in February 2013 aboard the same type of Taurus XL rocket used with Glory. Today’s launch failure suggests the space agency may have to revisit those plans, a move likely to add to OCO-2’s total cost.

Meanwhile, larger budget questions loom.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory crashed two years ago when NASA was flush with money from economic stimulus legislation. But the failure to launch Glory comes days after Congress and the White House agreed to a stopgap spending bill that narrowly averted a government shutdown.

. March 7, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Investigations have been launched into why NASA’s Glory satellite failed to reach orbit and crashed into the Pacific Ocean on Friday.

The environmental research satellite lifted off aboard a Taurus XL rocket around 2:10 a.m. PT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

However, it appears the protective shell or fairing over the satellite in the nose of the rocket failed to separate as expected, NASA reported. That meant the satellite did not have the velocity it needed to reach orbit around Earth.

“Indications are that the satellite and rocket … [are] in the southern Pacific Ocean somewhere,” NASA launch director Omar Baez said Friday at a news conference.

NASA believes the satellite could not have survived the crash in useable condition, spokeswoman Sarah DeWitt told CBC News.

The U.S. space agency is currently trying to get more telemetry data to pinpoint the satellite’s location before attempting to recover it.

NASA officials believe it landed near Antarctica, close to where another NASA environmental satellite crashed during a similar mishap in 2009. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory had also been aboard a Taurus XL, and its fairing also failed to separate.

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