No Glory: NASA Releases Findings from Taurus XL Rocket Failure

Artist concept of the Glory spacecraft in Earth orbit. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA has released the findings from a panel that investigated the 2011 crash of the Glory spacecraft after it failed to reach orbit on board an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL rocket, falling into the Pacific Ocean. Early on, the problem was traced to the fairing – the clamshell nosecone that encapsulates the satellite as it travels through the atmosphere — which did not separate from the rocket, weighing the satellite down, preventing its flight toward orbit.

However, the mishap investigation board was not able to identify the definitive cause for the fairing system failure. The rocket and satellite weren’t recovered, so there was no physical evidence to examine. In short, the board confirmed the Taurus launch vehicle’s fairing system failed to open fully and caused the mishap. And the board’s report does recommend ways to prevent future problems associated with the joint system that makes up the fairing.

But the board’s complete report is not available for public release because it contains information restricted by U.S. International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and information proprietary to the companies involved.

A similar technical glitch occurred during the 2009 launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO). A replacement, OCO-2 is scheduled to launch in 2014. NASA had originally planned to fly OCO-2 on a Taurus rocket, but changed its plans after the loss of Glory. OCO-2 will now launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta-II. But NASA and Orbital are continuing to investigate the fairing system.

Glory was going to be a three-year mission designed to improve our understanding of Earth’s climate by collecting data on the properties of natural and human-caused aerosols in Earth’s atmosphere and how they might affect climate change, as well as determining the Sun’s affect on climate by measuring the total solar energy entering Earth’s atmosphere.

You can read the summary here. (pdf file).

No Glory: NASA Delays Climate Change Satellite Mission

Artists impression of the Glory satellite at work. Credit: NASA


A satellite mission to study climate change on Earth has been delayed due to problems with its solar arrays. The Glory mission was scheduled for a November 22, 2010 launch, but it now has been tentatively pushed back to February 23, 2011. Reportedly, ground testing revealed a problem with a mechanism in one of the two solar panels on the Glory satellite. “The new launch date provides the necessary additional time required to complete preparations for the rocket and the spacecraft,” said a NASA status report issued on Friday. The mission is slated to launch on an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The $424 million Glory mission will gather data to help scientists to better understand the Earth’s energy budget. It will look at the properties of aerosols, including black carbon, in the Earth’s atmosphere and climate system, and enable a greater understanding of the seasonal variability of aerosol properties.

It will also collect data on solar irradiance for the long-term effects on the Earth climate record, helping to help in our understanding whether the temperature increase and climate changes are by-products of natural events or whether the changes are caused by man-made sources is of primary importance.

On the last Taurus XL launch in February 2009 — for the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, another NASA climate change research satellite — a fairing failed to separate, and the mission failed.

Source: KSC