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Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Nasa's pioneering satellite, designed to map carbon dioxide concentrations, has crashed into the ocean near Antarctica after running into technical difficulties during launch earlier today.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) blasted off in the early hours of this morning aboard a Taurus XL rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. However, at 10.11am GMT, as the satellite prepared to separate from the launch vehicle, Nasa launch director Chuck Dovale "asked that the contingency plan be implemented".

Three minutes later an explanation came through on the satellite's launch blog: "According to Nasa commentator George Diller, the payload fairing [a clamshell cover protecting the satellite as it is blasted through the atmosphere] failed to separate from the vehicle during ascent."

The rocket and satellite failed to reach orbit and subsequently plummeted into the ocean.

"Certainly for the science community it's a huge disappointment," said John Brunschwyler, Taurus project manager for Orbital Sciences Corp, which built the rocket and satellite. "It's taken so long to get here."

The project took nine years to reach the launch pad.

"The loss of this instrument is a serious setback," added Professor John Burrows, a co-investigator for the satellite. "OCO planned to build on the first measurements by the European Sciamachy instrument on Envisat and is complementary to the recently launched Japanese mission, Gosat."

Nasa's director of Earth sciences, Michael Freilich, said: "Over the next several days, weeks and months, we're going to carefully evaluate how to move forward and advance the science, given our evaluation of the assets that are in orbit now, the assets of our international partners and the existence of flight spares in order to put together a program, as rapidly as possible, to pick up where OCO left off."