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Glory launch fails

NASA’S GLORY MISSION ended Friday after the spacecraft failed to reach orbit following its launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

NASA has begun the process of creating a Mishap Investigation Board to evaluate the cause of the failure. Telemetry indicated the fairing, a protective shell atop the satellite’s Taurus XL rocket, did not separate as expected.

The launch proceeded as planned from its lift-off at 9:09pm Sydney time (5:09am US EST) through the ignition of the Taurus XL’s second stage. However, the fairing failure occurred during the second stage engine burn. It is likely the spacecraft fell into the South Pacific, although the exact location is not yet known.

In the following video, scientists and engineers brief media on the failure of the mission:

NASA’s previous launch attempt of an Earth science spacecraft, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory onboard a Taurus XL on February 24, 2009, also failed to reach orbit when the fairing did not separate.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory Mishap Investigation Board reviewed launch data and the fairing separation system design, and developed a corrective action plan. The plan was implemented by Taurus XL manufacturer Orbital Sciences Corporation. In October 2010, NASA’s Flight Planning Board confirmed the successful closure of the corrective actions.

The Glory Earth-observing satellite was intended to improve our understanding of how the sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth’s climate.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Glory satellite to launch today

NASA’S GLORY SPACECRAFT is scheduled for launch on Friday, March 4. Technical issues with ground support equipment for the Taurus XL launch vehicle led to the scrub of the original February 23 launch attempt. Those issues have been resolved.

The lift-off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, is targeted for 9:09:34pm Sydney time (5:09:43am US EST), in the middle of a 48-second launch window. Spacecraft separation from the rocket will occur 13 minutes after launch.

Taurus XL ready for lift-off at Vandenberg Air Force Base

Glory's Taurus XL rocket stands ready at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Image courtesy NASA / Randy Beaudoin, VAFB.

Data from the Glory mission will allow scientists to better understand how the Sun and tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols affect Earth’s climate.

The Taurus XL also carries the first of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellite missions. This auxiliary payload contains three small satellites called CubeSats, which were designed and created by university and college students.

NASA Television will carry launch coverage beginning March 4 at 7:30pm Sydney time (3:30am US EST). This coverage will be streamed live online at: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

Real-time updates of countdown and launch milestones will be posted on NASA’s launch blog beginning at the same time at: http://www.nasa.gov/glory

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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2011: The year in space

Artist's impression of the Juno spacecraft at Jupiter

Artist's impression of the Juno spacecraft investigating Jupiter. Juno is set for launch later this year.

THERE ARE LOTS OF EXCITING happenings coming up in space this year. Here’s just a sample of what we can expect.

On February 14-15, NASA’s Stardust probe will do a fly-by of comet Tempel 1. It’ll be looking for damage done by the Deep Impact spacecraft, which fired a projectile into the comet back in 2005.

Also there’ll be the launch of Glory, an Earth-orbiting spacecraft that’ll make readings of black carbon and aerosols in the atmosphere, and measure the amount of incoming sunlight. Plus there’ll be the final flight of the space shuttle Discovery, on a mission to the space station.

March will see NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft go into orbit around Mercury, the first probe to do so. A largely unknown world, the closest planet to the Sun is sure to hold some surprises. That month will also mark 25 years since Europe’s Giotto probe gave us our first close-up look at a comet, the famous Halley.

In April there’ll be a bunch of anniversaries, the 30th of the first space shuttle launch, the 40th of the first space station launch (which was the Soviet’s Salyut 1), and the biggie, the 50th anniversary of the flight of Vostok 1, carrying Yuri Gagarin, the first person to go into outer space.

Artist's impression of Salyut 1

Artist's impression of Salyut 1, the world's first space station.

April will also see the last flight of space shuttle Endeavour. And it could be the final shuttle mission of all. An extra flight by Atlantis in June has been approved but not yet funded, so we’ll just have to wait and see. Also in June, some parts of Australia will catch a short glimpse of a lunar eclipse.

July will see the second flight of the new, private Dragon spacecraft, designed to take cargo and eventually people to the International Space Station. Its first short test flight last year went perfectly. Dragon could end up being the replacement for the space shuttle.

Also in July, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will sidle up to the 530km-wide asteroid Vesta, and go into orbit. It’ll spend a year investigating it before heading off to do the same thing with the even larger asteroid Ceres, which is actually known as a dwarf planet these days.

Artist's impression of the Dawn spacecraft

Artist's impression of the Dawn spacecraft studying asteroid Vesta

August will see the launch of Juno, NASA’s new unmanned mission to study the planet Jupiter. It’ll take about five years to get there. And the following month will see NASA launch GRAIL, a pair of satellites that’ll orbit the Moon and map its gravitational field, which will help scientists work out its inner structure.

In November, Russia will launch Fobos-Grunt, a mission to the larger of the two Martian moons, Phobos. All going well, it’ll touch down, grab some samples, and blast off back to Earth with them. The Chinese are piggybacking a small satellite too, which will orbit Mars and study its atmosphere, ionosphere and surface.

Finally, in December, there’ll be another launch of that Dragon capsule, plus the first launch of its competitor, called Cygnus. And to top it off, we’ll have another lunar eclipse.

Image credits: NASA / JPL-Caltech.

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