A NASA rocket which blasted off this week failed to place an Earth-observing satellite into orbit and sent both hurtling into the Pacific Ocean.
The Taurus XL rocket carrying the Glory Satellite lifted off successfully from Vandenberg Air Force Base but a protective shell or fairing on top of the rocket failed to separate as planned three minutes after launch.
This meant the rocket was too heavy and the Glory spacecraft did not have enough velocity to reach orbit. It is thought that both fell into the South Pacific, although their exact location is not known.
NASA launch commentator George Diller said: "The flight was going well until the time of fairing separation.
“We did not have a successful fairing separation from the Taurus and there was insufficient velocity with the fairing still on for the vehicle to achieve orbit."
The satellite was launched on a three-year $424 million mission to analyse how atmospheric particles called aerosols, which reflect and trap sunlight, affect the Earth’s climate. It will also track solar radiation to determine the sun’s effect on climate change.
Both the satellite and rocket were built by Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp, which suffered a similar failure with a Taurus XL rocket in 2009 on another NASA launch.
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory failed to reach orbit when it couldn’t separate from a similar rocket to the one that carried Glory, crashing into the ocean near Antarctica.