The OCO launches on board a Taurus booster from Vandenberg Air Force Base (NASA TV)

Orbiting Carbon Observatory Launch Failure

Article Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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[/caption]This morning (Tuesday), shortly after 2am PST (10am GMT), the launch of Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) mission resulted in failure. According to reports from NASA, a “launch contingency” was declared shortly after the Taurus rocket upper stage finished firing T+12 minutes, 30 seconds into the flight. The rocket nose cone fairing failed to separate as expected, therefore the satellite could not be released. Further news is pending, but it appears that the failed Taurus XL upper stage plus OCO satellite remains in orbit. The OCO mission is declared lost…

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) was launched by a Taurus XL rocket at 1:55:30 am PST from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, set for a polar orbit at an altitude of 438 miles (704 km) to begin an important and detailed study into the carbon dioxide content of our atmosphere. The satellite was designed to provide NASA with an insight to the sources of human and natural carbon emissions, as well as pin-pointing our planet’s carbon “sinks”. Unfortunately, the opportunity to gather valuable data with this about the global impact of carbon emissions with the advanced OCO mission has been lost.

At 2:16 am (PST), NASA launch commentator George Diller confirmed that a launch contingency had been implemented:

This is Taurus launch control. It appears that we have had a launch contingency. We don’t have the exact nature of the loss of mission, but NASA launch director Chuck Dovale has directed that the launch contingency plan be implemented. We will try to bring you any additional information as soon as we have it.” — Chuck Dovale (courtesy of Spaceflight Now)

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (NASA)

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (NASA)

A few minutes later, Diller went into some more detail about the failure to get the OCO into orbit. The casing (or fairing) failed to separated successfully, trapping the satellite inside the Taurus XL upper stage. NASA scientists continued to ascertain what condition the spacecraft was in, but any hopes of a successful outcome to the contingency were dashed when Diller said, “Right now, we do know that we have not had a successful launch tonight and will not be able to have a successful OCO mission.”

A terribly sad night for NASA and a terrible set-back to efforts to understand the full impact of human activity on the Earth’s atmosphere.

Special thanks to @govertschilling and @Zurack for their help with notifying me of the situation and forwarding me links via Twitter.

Source: Spaceflight Now


37 Responses

  1. Sofia says:

    It’s a pitty…

  2. C. Emisions says:

    Absolutely typical stuff-up. Not only has the mission failed, NASA adds yet again to the space junk orbiting the Earth.
    Oh well, usefully confirms the common position of many Americans that global warming and climate change is a myth. Sure it wasn’t deliberate – especially with the economic disaster the U.S. has inflicted on the rest of the world?
    OCO was well named, methinks. Reminds me of the desert North American OCOTILLO plant with its spiny dead sticks – sometimes also known as Jacob’s staff. Like this now ex-craft – ocotillo is also like this plant – cactus.

  3. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    Just another grand contribution of the American space program – more junk place in orbit.
    As for the statement; “…terrible set-back to efforts to understand the full impact of human activity on the Earth’s atmosphere.”
    With the U.S. consuming 40% of the world’s resources for almost the entire 20th Century, and contributing so much to the climate change and global warming we suffer today, I’d think the U.S. Government, and much of the citizenry, will be dancing with joy. At least they will have a little more time before they have to do something about it. Climate change deniers will be popping the bubbly champagne tonight!

  4. PiD says:

    So, can they send a shuttle mission up to knock the cone off it and then send it on it’s way??

  5. Maugrim says:

    @ C. Emisions – Heh. I was expecting to see global warming deniers claiming that scientists deliberately sabotaged the mission to “prevent the lack of evidence coming to light”. Instead I see someone on the supposedly sane side of the argument claiming that it was sabotaged by the deniers.

    Please, let’s leave the conspiracy theories to the cranks, shall we?

  6. Spoodle58 says:

    Salacious B. Crumb says:
    Climate change deniers will be popping the bubbly champagne tonight!

    I was hoping this mission would provide some evidence either way and enlightening us all on the matter.

  7. andy says:

    I’m not sure I fully understand the report. Is there a nose cone in orbit with an undamaged satellite inside it?

  8. jkw says:

    Wanna vent?

    Orbital Sciences Corporation
    Barron Beneski, 703-406-5528
    Public and Investor Relations

    beneski.barron@orbital.com

  9. Zvezdichko says:

    No, the rocket hasn’t reached orbit! The payload fairing is too heavy for the stage to accelerate the huge complex (acceleration was expected if everything was nominal).

  10. Al says:

    It landed off of Antarctica’s coast. It’s a shame though, because I think it would have given us some really interesting and useful information.

  11. Tomster says:

    Al… you’re ruining the anti-American/NASA atmosphere with facts.
    I’ll get it back on track… Damn it! NASA is adding space junk to orbit! Any weasel can get a multi-ton satellite into orbit. If only the USA used metric and stuck extra an letter “u” into words everything’d be perfect.

  12. Ric says:

    It is amazing to me, how much poeple are willing to condem and give opinions to something they have no clue about. That mission was backed up by many nations. America is the leading space exploration country, but before you accuse America of all this….remember other countries ride on the ‘coat tails’ and have also contribute to the junk…and the failures. It is not only America, but the whole world to blame. Just remember, there is a dragon that has been awaken…China…and spoiling the resources is the last thing on their mind. For instance, buy a simply gas can in America, and you pay extra for the anti-emission controls on it. Yet anywheres else in the world a gas can is just a gas can. WE are All guilty of messing things up. I can not blame America without blaming the rest of the world. So don’t get me started on what NASA has done are not done. Like all of us…mistakes are made…question is learn from them…and help those who may need help. And the economic mess just did not start in America, it started everywhere. But America is the one of few countries that will hang it’s dirty linen out for everyone to see. So think before you speak. We all live in glass houses, and we can all throw stones.

  13. craig says:

    OK, so I’m a stupid, wasteful, greedy AMERICAN! BFD, that doesn’t mean the rest of ya’ll should have such an issue against bathing. As many times as we’ve bailed SOOOO many of you out over history, all there is today is finger pointing. Step up and repay a well overdue debt. Who’s selfish, huh? Idiots like Crumb.

  14. BeenThere says:

    jkw, you are full of more hot air than the warmers. Orbital tossed two spacecraft I personally worked on into the North Pacific years ago. It was NOT through negligence, or a pact with “deniers”. Rather, their zeal to meet the government’s cry of “faster-better- cheaper” was to blame. They did exactly what the government wanted. Want to vent, send some email to Dan Golden for foisting that triumvirate call on NASA and the rest of the industry. Engineering’s response in the industry was: “Faster, Better, Cheaper — pick any two” because that’s all you’re going to get. Note: I, too, wanted to see mission success — not to prove AGW, but to disprove it. Wake up dude, this is why it’s called rocket science!

  15. NYC Architect says:

    I think the most useful information gleaned from this is that Orbital Sciences Corporation should be ditched as a contractor- they are now at a 75% success rate.

  16. Sili says:

    Just imagine that I’ve typed out a long stream of invective here. I don’t think my choice of words would be accepted on this blog.

    No, not directed at anyone in particular. Just general frustration when good science is ruined. By chance rather than politicos this time.

  17. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    I just love the reaction to others who others they disagree with, then label them as crackpots, etc., etc. The negative (invective, if you must) views are sometimes closer to the truth than you think.
    If you think I’m anti-American – then perhaps you should should look at the “pinkos” at the New York Times. Clearly people might like to read this article “NASA Office Is Criticized on Climate Reports”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/03/science/earth/03nasa.html?_r=1&ref=science
    I think C. Emisions and my own early comment might, in some ways, may have hit the target.

  18. RetardedFishFrog says:

    Crumb – I’ve seen you get a pass from the Americans on this site for too long. I don’t know if it’s out of politeness or graciousness or a belief in free speech, or maybe no one thinks it’s worth wasting their time to respond to you. Please stop. Your anti-American rants make you look like an idiot, and it distracts from the topic.

  19. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    RetardedFishFrog Said:
    February 24th, 2009 at 6:54 pm
    “Crumb – I’ve seen you get a pass from the Americans on this site for too long. I don’t know if it’s out of politeness or graciousness or a belief in free speech, or maybe no one thinks it’s worth wasting their time to respond to you. Please stop. Your anti-American rants make you look like an idiot, and it distracts from the topic.”

    Thanks again for your usual and rather uninformed comments.
    Clearly you have little understanding of the history of internal political issues with NASA and climate change. If you understood the politics between NASA and the U.S. Government, you might have a clue on what I’m talking about.
    A classic example was the retiring ex-Boss of NASA climate programmes, James Hansen, at the end of January. You would think that such an individual would be a support of climate – but no – he is yet another change sceptic. As Dr, John Theon, who once supervised Hansen, was critic of his actions- mainly because Hansen allegedly modified or omitted climate data. As Theion said;
    ““My own belief concerning anthropogenic climate change is that the models do not realistically simulate the climate system because there are many very important sub-grid scale processes that the models either replicate poorly or completely omit. Furthermore, some scientists have manipulated the observed data to justify their model results. In doing so, they neither explain what they have modified in the observations, nor explain how they did it.
    They have resisted making their work transparent so that it can be replicated independently by other scientists. This is clearly contrary to how science should be done. Thus there is no rational justification for using climate model forecasts to determine public policy.”
    No doubt the strong political pressure being placed on the U.S. Government by the powerful Energy Industry lobby, and the influence of the Bush administration, has left questions on the reality of the commitment for climate solutions to the current crisis.
    Considering the United States has not finally ratified the Kyoto Protocol (every other country in the world has), and the Energy lobby want to maintain the status quo. Most want to see things unchanged to maintain profitability and avoid the costs involved in change to renewable energy sources.
    So when I said; ” Climate change deniers will be popping the bubbly champagne tonight!'” Sadly. Yes, there are those who are very happy to avoid evidence from scientific scrutiny to climate change – and in their view – the longer the better.
    Therefore if my “…anti-American rants make you look like an idiot,” – well you are quite entitled to your opinion.
    But from my view, unless you speak out about thing you are passionate about – and it is based on verifiable facts – then I’m entitled to comment. If you don;t like it – then don’t read it.

  20. RVictorAnalysis says:

    Funny – Boss of shield design team: “I need to see you in my office ASAP… Thanks for coming up. BTW… you’re fired!”

  21. RVictorAnalysis says:

    Oh and it didn’t “land in the Ocean,” yes, it crashed… unless of course they though a parachute might come in handy, just in case there might be a s-l-i-g-h-t possibility based on experience.

  22. RVictorAnalysis says:

    While I was disappointed that the Bush Admin didn’t sign on to the Kioto Treaty, not all countries signed on. Some big players are out.

  23. peter morley says:

    Why not use a recent shuttle launch to unlock fairings as a repair feature.

  24. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    RVictorAnalysis Says:
    “While I was disappointed that the Bush Admin didn’t sign on to the Kyoto Treaty, not all countries signed on. Some big players are out.”
    Same old same old. let’s get this right. There are two countries that have signed but not yet ratified is Kazakhstan. and the United States – who has said it is not intending to ratify at all.
    The remainder that have no signed and have not expressed a position are mostly war zones I.e. Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestinian Authority, Zimbabwe or are small nation states San Marino and Vatican City. The hardest on to explain is the Taiwan who seems to be not interested.
    Please explain which “big players” you mean?
    It seems to me the U.S., who is supposed to be leader of the free world, is the one dragging the chain. As stated by me previously, the reasons are twofold – the powerful energy lobby and the U.S. Government. The majority of U.S. citizens seems to agree with this position. (Only a minority sadly are not seemingly as enlightened as you – many being climate change deniers based on either belief that the science is incomplete or on some general religious pretext.)
    This is not a position of someone with a anti-U.S. stance, but based on fact.
    (I still contend that some in the U.S. deep-down were not overtly dissatisfied with the failure, and so far, no one has proved otherwise.)

  25. RetardedFishFrog says:

    Crumb said, “bla bla bla bla.”

    Please note that I did not dispute or even mention any of your claims. I’m just tired of your anti-Americanism, and I hope many others who monitor these posts are too. Statements like “more junk place (sic) in orbit,” and many others contradict your claim that you don’t hold a “position of someone with a anti-U.S. stance.”

  26. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    RetardedFishFrog Said:
    “Please note that I did not dispute or even mention any of your claims.”
    Wrong. You said my statements were anti-American, they were not. Clearly, the American stand against climate change is well established and well documented. Really if you don’t understand what is happening in the U.S. that is not my fault.
    As for “I’m just tired of your anti-Americanism. and I hope many others who monitor these posts are too.”
    Sorry, that is really your problem. I’m very pleased to see the central tenet of the Republic toward “freedom of speech” extends towards the larger non-American population of the world.
    Simply. if you don’t like it the don’t read it!
    Again thanks for your riveting views that continue directed to the topic at hand.

    Note: The statement of placing junk in orbit is now clearly incorrect. The subsequent article states it was dumped in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica. To re-paraphrase, the statement should now read; “Just another grand contribution of the American space program – more junk dropped into the Southern Ocean.”

  27. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    Error; “Simply. if you don’t like it the don’t read it!
    Again thanks for your riveting views that continue directed to the topic at hand.”
    Should read.
    “Simply. if you don’t like it then don’t read it!
    Again thanks for your riveting views that continue to be directed to the topic at hand.”
    Apologies.

  28. RetardedFishFrog says:

    The problem with your anti-Americanism is that you present a one-sided view and never – as far as I can remember – point out anything positive about the U.S. And the positives far outweigh the negatives. I don’t need to run down the list of positives because we see just a few of many presented here on UT. I would like to hear you acknowledge a few, but I don’t think you have it in you to accept 100% of reality, only the 10% that fits your worldview.

    The effect of your negativism is to convey and promote a one-sided and unrealistic perception of the U.S.

  29. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    RetardedFishFrog Said:
    February 26th, 2009 at 4:01 pm
    “The problem with your anti-Americanism is that you present a one-sided view and never – as far as I can remember – point out anything positive about the U.S.”

    I’m thinking, I’m thinking…
    Nope, sorry, can’t think of anything very positive at the moment… I’ll get back to you.

    As to negativism, well it isn’t a crime.

    My own opinion is that the U.S. is grossly insensitive in the way it wallows in its presumed superiority and unwilling to see other points of view.
    Climate change here is a classic example, as I highlighted through my comments. The United States point-blank is unwilling to join the rest of the world in combating climate change. The obnoxious attitude for those willing to even considering – is that we do it our way or no way.
    Meanwhile, beyond your obstinate little country, the rest of the world is seeing the environment change. I.e. Rapid melting polar caps, aridity of once large tracts of productive lands, flooding increasing in countries like Bangladesh or of the Pacific islands soon to be wiped out by rising sea levels, rising sea temperatures, increased beach erosion, etc, etc.
    Worst is how the stuffed U.S. economy has literally imploded, basically created from the greed and avarice manifested and created from U.S. based companies and reckless lending habits of the banks, feeding the unending and unsustainable consumption demands of its own population. This has plunged the rest of the world into financial chaos, affecting livelihoods and many individual’s own futures. (Yet all we hear is it is not our problem and it is not the United States fault.)
    In my view the only way to wake up dunderheads like you, whose own narrow insular view of the world is the problem – with the common attitude we can do what we like when we like – and damn the consequences.
    As to your assumptive opinion; “And the positives far outweigh the negatives”, have you ever considered that the media more often than not only reports negative views. You have only to watch the nightly news to see it relies on negativity and portrayed violence and suffering just so the audience will watch it. IMO, at least from my point of view, “The positives and negatives are almost in balance.”
    Perhaps there is “a one-sided and unrealistic perception of the U.S.”, but I think you could seriously consider that the ones who are generating the angst are actually yourselves. In the end, the truth why those outside the U.S.A. somewhat despises your government and people is the way you do things and your lack of mutual respect towards “the rest of us.”

    All this may have little to do with some failed satellite thrown in to a distant ocean, but the general attitude behind its final demise is the endemic problems the United States faces. The fact of the matter is, yes, some are happy with the satellites failure – most by people who place profits above the environment.
    I think that this both answers your questions and gives you some perspective on my views – however misguided you think they are.

  30. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    In lieu of my previous reply to RetardedFishFrog, the following response was posted prior to the launch on the Universe Today Site by ‘himom’ on February 17th, 2009 at 9:11 pm. He said

    “Another climate-monitoring satellite. More wasted money. The people are starting to catch on, time to come up with another doomsday scenario for the earth that will cost a fortune to study, increase taxes on everyone, and make it harder to live your life unshackled by big government regulation. This money could have gone into planetary exploration.
    BTW, still waiting for those cities that were supposed to be under water by now, the world wide famine, mass extinctions, and runaway high temperatures.”

    Do you think that this individual was saddened by the demise of the OCO? I’d be interested if you think that this view is endemic of the view of the U.S. population. Based on surveys on climate change, most see to agree.

  31. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    RetardedFishFrog want something positive.

    We one of the positive things the U.S. is holding a Symposium in a few weeks (3rd March 2009) the “U.S. Climate Action : A global economic perspective” at the Senate Hart Building, Washington D.C.

    It purpose and aim being;
    “A Global Economic Perspective will be held to explore the options for tackling the causes and consequences of climate change, and to examine the costs and benefits of domestic and international action. It will also high light the progress major emitters, particularly China, are making to tackle climate change and discuss how US and international action can together work towards an effective, efficient and equitable global deal on climate change at Copenhagen”
    (See http://www.usclimatesymposium.com/ )

    It is interesting that on-line news service “The Nation” on 25th February, under the title “A Global Green Deal” by Mark Hertsgaard, admitted;
    “The United States and China together account for 40 percent of global emissions, making them climate superpowers: if they do not cut emissions, it won’t matter how much other nations reduce”

    Partularly, the same article reported;
    “Under the circumstances, there is no substitute for fresh thinking and intense public pressure, both of which will be brought to bear in the run-up to Copenhagen. “I can’t understand why there aren’t rings of young people blocking bulldozers and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants,” Al Gore said in 2007. On March 2, Gore will get his wish. James Hansen of NASA, America’s foremost climate scientist, will join hundreds of activists, many of them college students with the Power Shift climate movement, in an act of civil disobedience outside the coal plant that powers the US Capitol. Hansen has argued that preventing catastrophic climate change requires an end to new coal plants; now he will get arrested to make that point. “If there are young people sticking their necks out, how can old geezers who caused their problem hang back?”

    He concludes in this article;
    “It requires fundamental changes in where government money goes, including taking billions of dollars away from some of the most powerful lobbies and corporations in the country, above all the oil and coal industries. Obama promised to change how politics is done in Washington, but does he have the stomach for this? We’ll see.”

    At least here is the glimmer if hope that the U.S. finally seems willing to try and catch-up. The rest of us hope it becomes reality.

    (Interestingly, data from the OCO was to be announced at this meeting, but obviously won’t be happening. I wonder if there was any political pressure involved with the launch date that might have contributed to the system failure.)

  32. RetardedFishFrog says:

    You should present these views in a more appropriate forum instead of wasting space here.

    If you were intellectually honest, you would explore the other side of this argument. I suggest you read a book entitled “What’s So Great About America” by Dinesh D’Souza. You need some eye opening.

  33. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    RetardedFishFrog Says:
    “You need some eye opening.”
    No thanks, I’ve seen enough already to realise that the path to the world’s future lies along a different path. Really, the best thing about the rest of the world at the moment, is we now know what to avoid.

  34. someone says:

    Sofia has the best comment yet, “what a pity”. Regardless of whether this program was good, bad, a conspiracy, or bs, the moral of the story is yes, a pity. A pity that well-regarded scientists envisioned this concept. It’s a pity that they, along with the best engineers in the field designed the product. It’s a pity that many other engineers, technicians, and suppliers spent years of their lives and made sacrifices to their families to ensure it all came together on-time and successfully. And it’s a pity it’s now in the Antarctic and all that money is wasted. Get over it, how many rockets have gone in the drink since we began “littering” space? Life moves on and maybe there will be another way to understand this science.

  35. RetardedFishFrog says:

    Crumb said “No thanks, bla bla bla…”

    That’s exactly what I expected – a typical response from an angry, closed minded person.

    And by the way, brevity is the soul of wit, not pompous bombasity.

  36. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    Salacious B. Crumb Said:
    RetardedFishFrog Says:
    “You need some eye opening.”
    No thanks, I’ve seen enough already to realise that the path to the world’s future lies along a different path. Really, the best thing about the rest of the world at the moment, is we now know what to avoid.”

    Such a response clearly methinks isn’t just a ” typical response from an angry, closed minded person.” It sounds like actually you are the one who has the identity issues. Hiding in the delusion of some imaginary Utopia behind some red white and blue flag doesn’t mean much in the real world. You can have it.
    Now have a NICE day, wouldn’t you.

  37. Salacious B. Crumb says:

    “someone” said;
    “Get over it, how many rockets have gone in the drink since we began “littering” space?”

    Agreed, but please do it in your own backyard and hemisphere. Most in my end of the world would appreciate that you stop using just as a dumping ground for your mistakes and unwanted rubbish.

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