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Mar 4, 2011 7:45 PM by Bethany Tucker, KSBY News

$424 million satellite mission deemed a failure

A NASA satellite is now driving in the South Pacific Ocean after a morning launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base goes wrong.

The Taurus XL rocket blasted off okay from Vandenberg AFB Friday morning, but the satellite it was supposed to put into orbit never made it there.

The Taurus lifted off from Vandenberg AFB at 2:09a.m. Friday. But a few minutes later, NASA declared a launch contingency when the Glory satellite didn't make it into orbit. "The satellite and rocket are in the southern Pacific Ocean somewhere," said Omar Baez, NASA launch director.

NASA says a protective shell, or "fairing," that was on top of the Taurus XL didn't come off. That was supposed to happen three minutes into the flight, allowing Glory to launch into orbit. The reason why it didn't happen is still unknown.

"Right now we're crunching the data, but there is really not enough data that's been processed so to really tell any more than the fairing didn't deploy," said Rich Straka, Deputy General Manager of Orbital Science Corp.

It's a mission that cost $424 million. But it's not just about the cost. NASA says the Glory mission was also a huge emotional investment. "The launch team, the spacecraft team, both the industry and the NASA side, I think it's not an understatement to say that tonight we're all pretty devastated," said Ron Grabe, General Manager of Orbital Sciences Corp. "There's a great deal of emotional investment on the part of all the players on any spaceflight, but that's probably doubly so on a return-to-flight effort like this one."

This is the second straight setback for NASA's environmental monitoring program. The same thing happened to another climate-monitoring satellite two years ago. That rocket also blasted off from Vandenberg AFB. The Taurus XL was used in that failed mission, as well. That first mission cost the space program eight years of work, and nearly $280 million.

As for Friday's failed launch, NASA says it has begun the process of putting together a Mishap Investigation Board to try to figure out what caused the failure. "We've now got to go off, find out what that is, fix it, and that is in fact what we will do," said Mike Luther, Deputy Associate Administrator for NASA Programs.

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