A US satellite to monitor global carbon dioxide emissions failed to reach orbit early Tuesday and crashed into the ocean near Antarctica, an official said at a Nasa press conference.
“The vehicle... landed just short of Antarctica in the ocean,” announced John Brunschwyler, program director for the Taurus launch rocket at the private company Orbital Sciences Corporation.
Nasa said the satellite launched successfully from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard a Taurus XL rocket, at 1:55 am (0951 GMT), but a fatal mission error occured minutes after liftoff when a clamshell-like fairing that protects the satellite during its ascent failed to separate properly.
“Several minutes into the flight of the Taurus rocket carrying Nasa’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory spacecraft, launch managers declared a contingency after the payload fairing failed to separate,” the space agency said earlier in a statement.
The $278 million Orbiting Carbon Observatory was going to measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and to determine what happens to the climate-changing pollutant.
The rocket carried hydrazine fuel but Nasa officials said they had no indication that any part of the rocket or satellite posed a threat to anyone.
It is Nasa’s first spacecraft dedicated to studying carbon dioxide. In January, Japan launched a satellite on a similar mission.
Carbon dioxide is the leading greenhouse gas driving climate change.
However “several minutes into the flight, launch managers declared a contingency when the fairing failed to separate properly,” Nasa said in a brief statement.