NASA finds no grandeur as Glory satellite fails

NASA Glory environmental satellite fails three minutes into launch

nasa glory
NASA's environmental satellite failed to separate from its rocket this morning after liftoff and likely crashed it the Pacific Ocean.

NASA said telemetry indicated the fairing, the protective shell atop the Taurus XL rocket, did not separate as expected about three minutes after launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The fairing failure occurred during the second stage engine burn. It is likely the spacecraft fell into the South Pacific, although the exact location is not yet known, NASA stated

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NASA's previous launch attempt of an Earth science spacecraft, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory onboard a Taurus XL on Feb. 24, 2009, also failed to reach orbit when the fairing did not separate.  NASA has begun the process of creating a Mishap Investigation Board to evaluate the cause of the failure.

NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory Mishap Investigation Board reviewed launch data and the fairing separation system design, and developed a corrective action plan. The plan was implemented by Taurus XL manufacturer Orbital Sciences Corporation. In October 2010, NASA's Flight Planning Board confirmed the successful closure of the corrective actions.

Just this week, the watchdogs at the Government Accountability Office had noted the failure of the fairing as one of the items that help drive the costs of the $420 million Glory satellite project up.   The GAO noted that the Glory project's development costs have increased by almost 31% and its launch was delayed by 21 months since being reauthorized by Congress and another evaluation in 2009 after a 53% development cost increase. Cost increases and schedule delays are a residual result of switching to an alternate single board computer provider due to reliability issues, the late delivery of the APS instrument, and, more recently, due to parts failure in the solar array drive assembly. Since Glory's original fiscal year 2008 baseline, the project's development costs had grown by 113% and its launch has been delayed over 2 years. The Glory project also received $16 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) which was used to maintain the current workforce through the planned launch, GAO stated.

The  Glory satellite was to join the fleet the squadron of satellites that orbit the Earth known as the Afternoon Constellation or "A-train." of satellites. The A-Train satellite formation includes other NASA environmental tracking satellites Aqua, CloudSat, CALIPSO, and Aura.  The Orbital Science-built Glory would have flown in a low-Earth orbit at an altitude of 438 miles.

Glory was carrying  technology designed to unravel some of the most complex elements of the Earth system. The mission featured two primary instruments, the Aerosol Polarimetry Sensor (APS) and the Total Irradiance Monitor (TIM). APS will improve measurement of aerosols, the airborne particles that can influence climate by reflecting and absorbing solar radiation and modifying clouds and precipitation, NASA stated.  

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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