Rocket carrying NASA carbon dioxide satellite crashes into ocean

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The launch of the observatory.
Image: NASA.

The rocket carrying NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory has crashed, sending the remains of the atmosphere observation satellite into the ocean off the coast of Antarctica. Shortly before the crash, the 'payload fairing' failed to deploy from the craft.

"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," said NASA in a statement on their website. "The spacecraft did not reach orbit and likely landed in the Pacific Ocean near Antarctica". The cause of the failure to deploy and the crash are still under investigation.

"A Mishap Investigation Board will be immediately convened to determine the cause of the launch failure," added the statement.

Artist rendition of OCO.
Image: NASA.

Steve Cole, a spokesperson for NASA told Bloomberg L.P., "the mission is lost. At this point no one is exactly sure what the cause is". The rocket that would have carried the observatory into space, a Taurus XL, took off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in the United States, at approximately 4:55 a.m. EST. Approximately 10 minutes into the mission, the payload failed to separate and a contingency was activated, but was unsuccessful.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory was the latest mission in NASA's ongoing study of the global carbon cycle. It would have been the first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide, the most significant human-produced greenhouse gas and the principal human-produced driver of climate change. The cost of the project was US$273 million.


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