4 March 2011
Last updated at 05:40 ET
By Jonathan Amos
Science correspondent, BBC News
The US space agency’s (Nasa) attempt to launch its latest Earth observation mission has ended in failure.
The Glory satellite lifted off from California on a quest to gather new data on factors that influence the climate.
But about five minutes into the flight, officials became aware of a problem.
It appears the fairing – the part of the rocket which covers the satellite on top of the launcher – did not separate properly.
This would have made the rocket too heavy and therefore too slow to achieve its intended 700km orbit. It would probably have fallen into the Ocean near the Antarctic, but this still has to be confirmed.
It is the exact same failure which befell Nasa’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory in 2009. It too launched on a Taurus XL rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, and again the fairing failed to separate properly.
On that occasion a “Mishap Investigation Board” was established to determine the root cause of the nose cone’s failure and to make recommendations to remedy the malfunction. It noted four hardware problems that needed correction. Friday’s launch was the XL’s return to flight after the OCO loss. Another board will now have to be convened.
The loss of Glory is a huge blow to the Orbital Science Corporation. It makes the rocket and assembled the Glory satellite for Nasa.
Glory was carrying two instruments. One of its instruments would have measured the total energy coming from the Sun; the other would have looked at particles in the atmosphere that can trap that energy or scatter it back out into space.
Understanding both is vital to our ability to forecast future change.
The Taurus XL is the smallest ground-launched rocket currently in use by the US space agency.
Since its debut in 1994, this type of rocket has flown nine times, with six successes and three failures including this launch. This was the second time Nasa had tried to launch a satellite on the XL.
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Nasa Glory launch ends in failure