Glory Launch Fails; Echos of OCO Failure Two Years Ago

Glory Launch Fails; Echos of OCO Failure Two Years Ago

UPDATE: This article is updated to reflect the NASA press conference that was held at 8:00 am EST.

The much anticipated launch of NASA’s Glory earth science satellite ended in failure this morning when the fairing on the Taurus XL launch vehicle failed to separate about six minutes after launch. NASA lost the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) in a similar launch failure with the Taurus XL in 2009. Orbital Sciences Corp. builds the Taurus XL.

Glory’s mission was to collect data on aerosols in the atmosphere and on total solar irradiance. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center managed the mission.

At a press conference, NASA launch director Omar Baez said that no anomalies were detected during launch preparations and liftoff was “right on target.” The launch was looking good until 6 seconds after separation between stage 1 and stage 2 when the fairing was supposed to separate. It did not. The spacecraft and launch vehicle were lost and are “somewhere in the South Pacific.”

Ron Grabe of Orbital Sciences referenced the OCO launch failure two years ago. He said the most probable cause in that case was a failure of the launch separation system and they had redesigned and tested the system, completely changing out the ignition system to the one used on the Minotaur 4, which has flown successfully three times. Orbital was confident they had “nailed the fairing issue,” but that clearly was not the case. He said there is a great deal of emotional investment in any launch, but “doubly so” in a return to flight mission like this one and we are “pretty devastated.”

Mike Luther from NASA’s earth science directorate said that NASA felt they had an acceptable level of risk, but obviously had missed something. Glory would have made important measurements for understanding Earth as a system and the impacts of climate change, he said. NASA will continue to contribute to this field of science with its existing 13 earth science spacecraft as well as aircraft, and will move forward with a dozen earth science missions slated for launch in the next decade.

NASA is building a replacement for OCO, OCO-2, and a reporter asked if that still will be launched on a Taurus 2. The answer was that NASA would have to evaluate how to proceed.

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