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February 24, 2009
Also appeared in print Mar. 2, 2009, p. 30


Carbon-Observing Satellite Mission Fails

Spacecraft plunges into ocean minutes after launch

Elizabeth K. Wilson

Orbital Sciences Corporation
Minutes after launch, NASA's OCO fell into the ocean.

NASA's much anticipated Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) mission—which was to study global CO2 sources and sinks—has ended in dismal failure. The craft plunged into the ocean near Antarctica just minutes after launch on Tuesday morning.

At Vandenberg Air Force Base, in central California, where OCO was launched, a despondent group of engineers and scientists told the press that the craft's fairing—a protective clamshell-shaped structure encapsulating the satellite—failed to separate from the launch rocket. The satellite wasn't able to go into orbit and fell back to Earth, landing in the ocean.

The craft was expected to monitor, in high resolution, concentrations of CO2 from Earth's surface to the top of its atmosphere, providing vital information about the global distribution of the greenhouse gas (C&EN, Feb. 2, page 11).

NASA is convening a panel to investigate the exact cause of the failure.

"For the science community, it's a huge disappointment, to the entire team that's worked years and years," Charles P. Dovale, NASA Launch Director said at the conference.

"It's very hard," added John Brunschwyler, OCO's project manager. "At a very personal level, we are upset."

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Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society

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