NASA’s Glory satellite ended up at the bottom of the southern Pacific Ocean early Friday morning, the victim of a failed launch that almost got the $424 million weather spacecraft into orbit.
All seemed to be going as planned at the 2:10 a.m. PT launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, until the final stage of the launch, when a fairing covering the satellite was supposed to be ejected. Because that protective cover stayed on, the configuration was too heavy and too slow to make it to orbit, said NASA launch commentator George Diller…
According to Space.com, Glory was intended to monitor two aspects of the Earth’s climate. It was designed to give scientists a dynamic look at tiny particles in the Earth’s atmosphere, called aerosols, in hopes of determining how they affect the planet’s weather. In addition, the satellite had instruments that measured variations in the amount of solar energy striking the highest regions of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Alas, it was not to be. According to NASA launch director Omar Baez, “All indications are that the satellite and rocket are in the southern Pacific Ocean.”
This is especially bad news for Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp, makers of the Taurus XL rocket that lifted the spacecraft to near-orbit. According to the AP, a similar problem occurred in 2009 with a Taurus XL launch vehicle, where a fairing stayed on a satellite and the launch failed, with its satellite ending up in roughly the same place in the South Pacific near Antarctica.
Why is this a big deal? Besides the loss of $424 million of space hardware, Orbital Sciences is one of the private companies NASA is counting on to lift cargo to the International Space Station when the shuttles are retired.