NASA earth observation satellite fails to reach orbit (Update)

Mar 04, 2011
The Orbital Sciences Taurus the XL rocket and NASA's encapsulated Glory spacecraft awaiting an early morning launch on the pad at Space Launch Complex 576-E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, February 2011. The earth observation satellite Glory failed to reach orbit after its protective cover did not detach following its launch.

A NASA satellite that aimed to study the impact of aerosols on climate plunged into the Pacific Ocean on Friday, delivering a $424-million blow to the US space agency.

The failure of the Glory satellite launch was the second bungle for NASA climate science efforts in two years, and closely resembled a botched carbon satellite launch involving the same company, Orbital Sciences Corp., in 2009.

Glory could not reach orbit after its protective clamshell-like nose cone cover failed to detach after launch, engineers said as they struggled to figure out why the expensive technology collapse had happened yet again.

"We are all pretty devastated," said Ron Grabe, executive vice president and general manager of the Virginia-based Orbital's Launch Systems Group, which made both the rocket and satellite.

Grabe appeared at a press conference Friday along with other grim-faced executives and NASA experts as the US space agency announced the creation of a "Mishap Investigation Board to evaluate the cause of the failure."

"We encountered no anomalies" early on, NASA launch director Omar Baez told reporters.

But a few minutes into the flight, it became apparent that separation of the cover, known as a fairing, had not occurred.

"We didn't see the indication of fairing separation," said Baez. "We failed to make orbit and all indications are that the satellite and rocket are in the southern Pacific Ocean somewhere."

The launch of the satellite -- which was to measure aerosols in the Earth's atmosphere to help clarify their impact on climate -- was delayed on February 23 after an unexpected ground control reading 15 minutes before liftoff.

On Friday it blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard a four stage Taurus-XL rocket at 2:09 am (1009 GMT), but NASA soon reported that it was slowing down and would not reach orbit.

A similar mishap took place in February 2009, when a satellite designed to monitor global carbon dioxide emissions plummeted into the ocean near Antarctica after failing to reach orbit, in a setback for climate science.

There too, a fatal mission error occurred minutes after liftoff when the fairing, which protects the satellite during its ascent, failed to separate properly.

But experts said it was too early to know if the Glory failed for the exact same reason, and that more analysis was needed.

"Right now we are crunching the data but there is not enough data that has been processed to tell any more than the fairing did not deploy," said Rick Straka, deputy general manager at Orbital.

Grabe said engineers had done extensive research on the previous failure, and went so far as to completely change out the initiation system and replace it with another one that had flown successfully three times.

"So we really went into this flight feeling confident that we had nailed the fairing issue," said Grabe.

"There is a great deal of emotional investment on the part of all the players on any spaceflight but that is probably doubly so on a return-to-flight effort like this one," he said.

"We will recover. The team will bounce back. They are all professionals and Orbital Sciences will bounce back with the Taurus vehicle," said Grabe.

The satellite itself weighed 1,164 pounds (528 kilograms), and carried two main instruments, the Aerosol Polarimetry Sensor and the Total Irradiance Monitor which was to be directed at the Sun.

Glory was supposed to chart an orbital course 340 nautical miles (630 kilometers) above the Earth, before employing an on-board propulsion system to raise its orbit to 438 nautical miles (811 kilometers).

It was then supposed to join what is known as the "A-Train" of Earth-observing satellites sent up by NASA.

The five already there -- Aqua, Cloudsat, Calipso, Parasol and Aura -- fly in formation, crossing the equator every afternoon.

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User comments : 21

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brianlmerritt
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 04, 2011
To lose one satellite may be regarded as unfortunate. To lose two...
Skepticus
3 / 5 (4) Mar 04, 2011
To lose one satellite may be regarded as unfortunate. To lose two...

..with the same protective fairing failure is brilliant. Whoever were responsible for designing the fairing release should have been employed for doing the ET foam insulation. That would never come off, ever.
Royale
5 / 5 (6) Mar 04, 2011
to lose two, both related to studying climate change in the same way? Geez, is Nasa mostly Republican? Seems to be more than a coincidence.. everyone keeps saying prove it, and scientists keep proving it then they want to add more satellites to offer more proof and bam.. no dice.. this is odd to say the least..
kaasinees
4 / 5 (4) Mar 04, 2011
Maybe there is sabotage involved.
PieRSquare
4 / 5 (4) Mar 04, 2011
It's very unfortunate and questions will need to be answered but making a conspiracy out of two events is jumping the gun. We have to keep in mind that spaceflight is inherently risky. Hanlon's razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."
wealthychef
5 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2011
I used to sneer a little when Indian or Chinese spacecraft failed. It was nice to be on the winning team. Now America is no better than others... we are going to have to get used to being mediocre, it seems.
baudrunner
3.2 / 5 (6) Mar 04, 2011
Yet another example of what can and will continue to happen when government contracts out to the lowest bidder.
ABSOLUTEKNOWLEDGE
Mar 04, 2011
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
LKD
1.5 / 5 (8) Mar 04, 2011
NASA's job is not to study aerosols, that's NOAA's. This is 500 million which COULD have been used to get the Webb into space, build us a launch design to replace the shuttles... No, lets use it to study climate change. How shameful.
Royale
4 / 5 (4) Mar 04, 2011
after Absolute's comment, i'm thinking sabotage is probably NOT involved.

Hell, is English a second language to you? Or are you just pulling a Charlie Sheen? Either would be comical/scary.
yyz
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 04, 2011
"..with the same protective fairing failure is brilliant. "

At the post-launch briefing someone from Orbital Sciences explained that due to the fairing problem in 2009, engineers decided to use a different ejection sub-assembly in the fairing to address the problem.

Three successive launches using this new ejection assembly in the fairing went off without a hitch. Obviously launch number four wasn't so lucky.

I would simply echo PieRSquare's sentiments that spaceflight is inherently risky. No conspiracy theories needed.

Hopefully the Air Force will have better luck with today's launch of the X-37B (OTV-2). I understand they'll be using a 5 meter Swiss-built fairing on a Atlas rocket.

Universe Today has a good story on the launch: http://www.univer...-launch/
Skepticus
3 / 5 (4) Mar 04, 2011
Three successive launches using this new ejection assembly in the fairing went off without a hitch. Obviously launch number four wasn't so lucky.

I would simply echo PieRSquare's sentiments that spaceflight is inherently risky. No conspiracy theories needed


Those 50-60's design fairings worked 100%, from apollo 8 to 17, the last. Now, half a century later, 33% failure rate (3 out of 9 launches), and 100% failure rate for 2 successive climate satellites that may nail the AGW or GW to the wall, are no big deal at all, nor conspiracy, no sir...
Skepticus
3 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2011
...not to mention the first failure was also a climate research type sat as well, the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (QuikTOMS). All these cimate-sats must be toxic to launchers, just like all those solar sails that ended up in the oceans
Shaffer
1 / 5 (1) Mar 04, 2011
...yeah right, who's getting paid to sabotage them?
ab3a
3 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2011
To those who think sabotage or something of the sort, allow me to point out that there are two elements to the global climate change problem: The first is to determine what is going on with reasonable accuracy. The second is what to do about it.

I am entirely in favor of the former. However, many people are jumping the gun in a manner of "The sky is falling and you must do exactly as I say or life as we know it will be over!" The latter I do not agree with. However, the latter has nothing to do with gathering the information. I am willing to concede that the earth is probably warming. However, that does not mean I'm going to follow in lockstep with all those who think we can conserve our way out of this problem. I believe we'll have to terraform our way out of this problem and I believe that the only way we can make that work is to get better data.

I am a right wing conservative, and I too mourn the loss.
fixer
3 / 5 (2) Mar 04, 2011
"...yeah right, who's getting paid to sabotage them?"

Now that is a very good question...
Who benefits most from lack of data on aerosols? the people that manufacture and sell them!
Who ownes who is the next question.
Caliban
not rated yet Mar 04, 2011
So, obviously, there has to be some obligation on the part of the contractor to have at least 3X capitalization to be able to ensure they can make good on the contract.

Accidents happen, to be sure, but any one of us would be expected to at least have insurance, or would be compelled to make restitution.

Why is it that similar standards aren't insisted upon in government contracting? A half billion dollar project goes down in flames, and no one is asking who pays to make good?

Oh, right -John and Jane Public get to pick up the tab...

Does any one have the low down on how this works?
Sanescience
2 / 5 (4) Mar 05, 2011
Wow, a lot of Debi Downer here today.

And whoever keeps sprinkling the toxic meme linking political parties to conspiracies, your more toxic than those you besmirch.
vidyunmaya
1 / 5 (1) Mar 05, 2011
Is there a mis-match between SDO data and March-2- march 3 to 4th- or a oversight in Communication failure ?
Vidyardhi Nanduri
ABSOLUTEKNOWLEDGE
Mar 05, 2011
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ABSOLUTEKNOWLEDGE
Mar 05, 2011
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
ABSOLUTEKNOWLEDGE
Mar 05, 2011
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Temple
not rated yet Mar 06, 2011
important evidence\attn first amendment case\Wayne B. Giampietro\FALA

http://i53.tinypi...e9o0.jpg

screencapture file will be save for evidence of elegashuns
Vendicar_Decarian
3 / 5 (2) Mar 06, 2011
"And whoever keeps sprinkling the toxic meme linking political parties to conspiracies, your more toxic than those you besmirch." - Whatever

It is doubtful that there is any deep, dark, conspiracy at work here.

I anticipate that this is the work of one lone Republican who is working as all Republicans do, to preserve is backward, deceitful, conservative liedeology by destroying his country.
Calenur
5 / 5 (3) Mar 13, 2011
I could imagine there is a great deal of stress for these specific scientists/engineers at the moment. The proposed budget cuts not only hit NASA pretty hard, but I would suspect funding toward climate research is going to reach an all time low with our current representation. I can easily see an over-worked and extremely stressed group focusing too much attention in one area, while missing other minor mistakes.

It's disheartening to see politial rivalry get in the way of progress. Whether you believe in global warming or not, I'm sure most can agree it is always a good thing to understand our environment more thoroughly. Cutting this type of research will only hurt us.