A $280 million NASA satellite designed to monitor carbon dioxide emissions failed early this morning because of a problem with the Taurus XL rocket. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory was a critical part of the space agency's effort to gather data on climate change, and the probe's failure is a major blow to earth scientists eager to collect more accurate data on carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas. The launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California went well at first, but a few minutes into the flight the fairing that contains the satellite did not separate properly from the rocket, according to NASA officials. That means the probe is in a useless orbit or plunged into the ocean near Antarctica. NASA managers intend to set up a mishap board to understand what took place. The failure comes just as the U.S. Congress approved a funding boost for NASA's Mission to Planet Earth.
Observatory co-investigator John Burrows of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology said in a statement : "The UK and European science community is a major partner in OCO and the loss of this instrument is a serious setback. The OCO mission aimed to make unique and high quality measurements of the atmospheric column of carbon dioxide at high spatial resolution. This information is urgently required to constrain our understanding of CO2 fluxes at the Earth's surface (uptake by both the land surface and the oceans) and emissions from fossil fuel combustion."
A recently launched Japanese mission will collect much the same data, but Burrows said that the satellite would have collected "complementary " information.