(Updated 10:14am ET)
A new $273 million satellite designed to detect atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and in turn, aid in scientists’ understanding of the human impact on this atmospheric gas, has been lost in space. It was launched on Tuesday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
This catastrophic loss comes on the heels of another recent space disaster – a collision between Russian and US satellites miles above the earth on February 11th.
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite didn’t reach orbit after its 1:51 a.m. local time launch because the â€œpayload fairing didn’t separate, NASA said in a statement. The fairing is a protective cover that surrounds the top of the satellite during launch and then is intended to separate from the main vehicle so the satellite can detach from its rocket boosters and enter regular orbit. For an unknown reason, the fairing failed to separate at the required time.Â The added weight of the fairing remaining attached prevented the rocket from obtaining the necessary elevation to reach stable orbit.
The spacecraft did not reach orbit and landed in the Pacific Ocean near Antarctica, said John Brunschwyler, the program manager for the Taurus XL.
“If it is lost, that is disappointing because it was giving us novel information to help us move our understanding forward on global warming,” said Alan O’Neill, science director of the Reading, U.K.-based Centre for Earth Observation.
The lost satellite was NASA’s first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the leading human-produced greenhouse gas believed to have a contribution to changes in Earth’s climate. It was hoped that this satellite would further refine scientists’ understanding of how much carbon dioxide is released by humans and how the atmosphere responds to this increase.
“The Orbiting Carbon Observatory’s carbon dioxide measurements will be pivotal in advancing our knowledge of virtually all Earth system land, atmosphere, and ocean processes,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington. “They will play crucial roles in refining our knowledge of climate forcings and Earth’s response processes.”