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NASA delivers $424-million blow to U.S.

06 march 2011, 03:13
0
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 U.S. space agency, AFP reports.

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, known as a fairing, 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.

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.

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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