Monday, March 7, 2011

Lost satellite deals blow to climate research

Image: Taurus XL launchFor the second time in two years, a rocket glitch sent a NASA global warming satellite to the bottom of the sea Friday, a $424 million debacle that couldn't have come at a worse time for the space agency and its efforts to understand climate change.

Years of belt-tightening have left NASA's Earth-watching system in sorry shape, according to many scientists. And any money for new environmental satellites will have to survive budget-cutting, global warming politics — and now, doubts on Capitol Hill about the space agency's competence.

The Taurus XL rocket carrying NASA's Glory satellite lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and plummeted to the southern Pacific several minutes later. The same thing happened to another climate-monitoring probe in 2009 with the same type of rocket, and engineers thought they had fixed the problem.

"It's more than embarrassing," said Syracuse University public policy professor Henry Lambright. "Something was missed in the first investigation and the work that went on afterward."

Lambright warned that the back-to-back fiascos could have political repercussions, giving Republicans and climate-change skeptics more ammunition to question whether "this is a good way to spend taxpayers' money for rockets to fail and for a purpose they find suspect." ...

Why it failed

Glory failed when the rocket's clamshell-shaped protective covering that was supposed to shield it during launch never opened to let the satellite fire into orbit. A similar fiasco happened in 2009 when the Orbiting Carbon Observatory fell back to Earth after the rocket nose cone also failed to separate. ...

via Lost satellite deals blow to climate research - Technology & science - Space -

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