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Tuesday, 24 February 2009 18:42

NASA's carbon dioxide mission fails to orbit, and crashes

After lifting off at 1:55 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (PST) on Tuesday, February, 24, 2009, NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory did not reach its intended orbit. Its mission was declared 'lost' when it crashed into the Antarctic Ocean.

[Updated 8:11 a.m. Central Standard Time]

Lifting off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, at 1:55 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (PST), 0955 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), via a Taurus XL rocket, a fairing (shroud) on the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) failed to separate properly from the satellite as it left Earth’s atmosphere.

Nasa confirmed the failure at a media conference at 5:00 a.m. PST (1300 GMT). Initial reports state that the remains of the satellite crashed near Antarctica in the Antarctic Ocean. NASA confirmed this information at the meeting.

The fairing incident occurred at 2:11 a.m. PST (1011 GMT), at which time NASA launch director Chuck Dovale requested that a “contingency plan be implemented.” Guardian.co.uk: “Nasa's CO2 satellite fails to launch into orbit

A video of Mr. Dovale announcing the contingency plan is found on the Guardian.co.uk. website.

The failure-to-orbit, and its later crash back on Earth, dooms the satellite from completing its important mission to study the global climate from the perspective of carbon dioxide, one of the major greenhouse gases that accumulate in Earth's atmosphere.

The nose-mounted fairing protects the payload by surrounding it during launch as the rocket ascends through Earth’s atmosphere.

Once in outer space, the protective device is supposed to be ejected from the satellite. However, the fairing failed to separate as intended.

The Guardian.co.uk reported earlier that NASA spokesperson George Diller confirmed that the fairing did not separate from the vehicle during ascent through the atmosphere.

Diller later commented, “We have not had a successful launch tonight and will not be able to have a successful OCO mission.” [MSNBC: “NASA global warming satellite has troubled launch.”]

Page two continues.

Consequently, the OCO satellite did not reach its intended orbit of about 705 kilometers (438 miles) above the surface of the Earth, with an inclination of about 98 degrees.

Such an orbit would have placed it into a near-polar, sun-synchronous orbit.

Ground telemetry controllers investigated the position of the satellite after the failure, while other ground controllers assessed the condition of the satellite. However, the satellite did not have sufficient altitude to remain in orbit.

It subsequently descended back to Earth, where it reportedly impacted the ocean around Antarctica. NASA confirmed this initial report in its news conference held earlier.

Taurus-rocket program manager John Brunschwyle stated, "Initial indications are the satellite landed just short of Antarctica in the ocean." [MailOnline: "Nasa's £190million 'global warming' satellite ditches in Antarctic ocean after major fault"]

The US$273.4 million mission was originally intended to monitor carbon dioxide (CO2), an important greenhouse gas, that accumulates in clumps (sinks) throughout the atmosphere, and is also present in Earth’s oceans.

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