Technology & Science

NASA satellite crash subject of 2 probes

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

$424-million Glory climate research satellite destroyed after rocket component fails

A crane lifts the Glory satellite's upper stack for attachment onto the Taurus XL rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The satellite failed to reach orbit Friday, NASA says. (NASA/Associated Press)

Latest

  • NASA begins creating a mishap investigation board to probe the failure.
  • At a news conference, NASA says the satellite likely fell into the Pacific Ocean.
  • The satellite fails to reach orbit after it did not separate properly from the rocket, NASA says.
  • NASA's Glory satellite lifts off aboard a Taurus XL rocket at 2:10 a.m. Friday.

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.

The Taurus XL is manufactured by Orbital Sciences Corp., a Dulles, Va.-based company that trades on the New York Stock Exchange.

On Friday morning, Orbital Sciences Corp. and NASA announced they had launched two separate investigation boards to evaluate the cause of the failure of the $424-million US Glory mission.

NASA paid Orbital about $54 million to launch Glory, Orbital spokesman Barron Beneski told The Associated Press. The Taurus rocket has launched nine times, six of them successfully.

Climate study

Glory was supposed to spend three years analyzing how aerosols — tiny, solid particles suspended in the atmosphere — affect Earth's climate. Such particles are released from both natural and man-made sources, including volcanoes, forest fires and the burning of fossil fuels. They may warm or cool the Earth by trapping or reflecting sunlight.

Bob McDonald, the host of CBC's Quirks & Quarks science radio show, said such particles are "a bit of an unknown when it comes to climate science because they can come and go very quickly."

He added that the Glory mission represented the first study of its kind.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory also had a mission to study the Earth's climate by measuring carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat near the surface of the Earth, in the atmosphere.

"I'm kind of disappointed that these satellites are not making it into space because we need them." McDonald said.

McDonald said NASA has the plans for Glory, so it could build a duplicate.

"Maybe out of spare parts. That's been done in the past," he said. "What bothers me is that the U.S. government is actually cutting back on science for climate change. There's a new Senate there that's filled with people who don't like to talk about climate."

Following the demise of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, a NASA investigators spent months testing hardware, interviewing engineers and reviewing data and documents about the launch and developed a corrective action plan. The probe did not find evidence of widespread testing negligence or management shortcomings, but NASA declined to release the full accident report, citing sensitive and proprietary information.

Orbital Sciences Corp. has since implemented the corrective action plan that involved a complete redesign of the system that separates the rocket from its fairing, NASA said. The new system has been successfully used on another Orbital launch vehicle several times.

A duplicate of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory mission is now scheduled to fly in 2013 aboard another Taurus XL rocket, but the space agency can still change launch vehicles if the Taurus proves unreliable, NASA Earth Science director Mike Freilich told AP.

With files from The Associated Press

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