Friday, March 4, 2011

No Glory for NASA: Science Satellite Lost in $424 million Launch Failure

"Oh, sorry to hear that," station commander Scott Kelly replied.

This was a big deal, getting accurate "measurements of how much solar energy enters and leaves Earth's atmosphere and how small particles called aerosols, both manmade and natural, affect the global environment." Sort of a fact based approach to climate science.

From Cnet:
NASA's Glory atmospheric research mission satellite crashed into the southern Pacific Ocean early today after a protective nose cone fairing failed to separate during launch aboard an Orbital Sciences Corp. Taurus XL rocket. The $424 million failure was the second in a row for the Orbital Sciences booster following the 2009 loss of another environmental satellite due to a similar nose cone malfunction.

"I think it's not an understatement to say tonight we're all pretty devastated," said Ronald Grabe, a former space shuttle commander who now manages Orbital's Launch Systems Group. "But we will recover, the team will bounce back because they're all professionals. Orbital Sciences will bounce back with the Taurus vehicle."

Delayed since Feb. 23 by trouble with ground support equipment, the Glory mission got underway at 2:09:43 a.m. PT with a sky-lighting launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The first two stages of the slender four-stage solid-fuel booster ignited normally, with the second stage firing up on time two minutes and 45 seconds after liftoff.

Six seconds later, the two halves of the clamshell nose cone fairing were supposed to separate, pushed away by pistons driven by pressurized nitrogen.

"We are at T+plus 300 seconds," Richard Haenke, the ascent commentator, reported as the rocket continued climbing. "The vehicle speed error is indicating underperformance, which is expected due to a fairing not separating. We have a report the system did pressurize. However, we still have no indication of the fairing separating."

The additional weight of the nose prevented the rocket from achieving its planned trajectory and a few moments later, NASA Launch Director Omar Baez declared a failure.

"We have had a contingency on the Glory mission," he told the launch team at 2:15 a.m. PT. "Please enact the mission mishap preparedness and contingency plan....MORE
I've got to get me one of those mission mishap preparedness and contingency plans.