Tragedy for NASA's Climate Science Satellite Program

Illustration for article titled Tragedy for NASAs Climate Science Satellite Program

Early yesterday morning, NASA launched the Orbital Carbon Observatory in a long anticipated mission to aid our understanding of climate change, only to have the rocket crash to earth, shortly after launch.

The satellite, nine years in the making, was designed to monitor the carbon dioxide levels from orbit. Its crash is a major setback to those hoping to study the effects of rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and represents a loss of almost a quarter of a billion dollars.

The satellite launched just before 2 am on Tuesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on a Taurus XL rocket. The first and second stages of the rocket separated without problem, but the nose cone of the rocket failed to separate after the firing of the third stage. The added weight of this section was too much for the rocket, and it crashed into the Antarctic ocean. This is the second failure for the satellite's developers, Orbital Sciences. The company has a second climate-examination satellite, set to launch later this year, but has delayed that launch until a solution to this problem can be found.


The failure of the mission leaves scientists without a valuable tool. The satellite, which was designed to measure levels of atmospheric and oceanic carbon, could have provided much needed insight into how the atmosphere and oceans interact when it comes to CO2. While monitoring stations have been able to provide results from set areas, this would have been a method to examine the global interactions.

Scientists are now looking to Japan's GOSAT satellite, which was launched last year, to gather some of the data. According to the New York Times, rebuilding the observatory will be contingent on the funding that NASA receives in the recent stimulus.

Read more at the Washington Post.

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Franklin Harris

This reminds me of the time NASA launched a satellite intended to count the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin.