Wednesday, 25 February 2009

OCO Crashes

Well the Orbiting Carbon Observatory didn't. It seems that the spacecraft was inside a covering to protect it during the ride into space. This structure was supposed to separate after three minutes, but the separation failed. Consequently the observatory was too heavy to make it into orbit and it splashed down near Antarctica.

At least that's the most likely explanation at the moment - an investigation board is being convened by NASA which will hopefully reach a 'most probable cause' for the failure.

There was a rather unedifying press conference in which NASA seemed somewhat unprepared for some of the questions about what happens next:

- There was no figure given for the full cost of the mission, but it had been eight years in development

- In terms of a replacing the OCO there was no information on existing spares or what would be needed to re-build.

- As to what happens next in terms of getting the sort of carbon data that the OCO was designed for, there was a non-committal response. It was pointed out that there are other related and complementary methods that could be employed. For example in January the Japanese Space Agency launched an observatory to make some measurements and algorithms have been developed than can be used with other satellites already in space. They will look at the best way to move forward using existing and future assets, future launch programmes, etc. Consequently there was no precise time delay caused by the mission failure.

- When asked about the environmental impact of the space craft falling back to earth the response was 'not much'.

The NASA press conference is here.

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