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NASA's Glory spacecraft fails to reach orbit after launch from Vandenberg AFB

March 4, 2011 |  9:05 am

Taurus (2) A nine-story rocket carrying an Earth-observation satellite dubbed Glory failed to reach orbit and likely fell into the South Pacific Ocean following its launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, north of Santa Barbara.

In a statement, NASA said that the protective shell perched atop the rocket did not separate and the satellite did not enter orbit, which should have occurred about three minutes after the launch.

NASA said the entire cost of the mission was $424 million.

It is the second consecutive time that NASA has encountered the problem with the rocket, the Taurus XL, built by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. The space agency’s previous launch attempt on Feb. 24, 2009, of an Earth science spacecraft, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, also failed to reach orbit when the fairing did not separate.

“NASA has begun the process of creating a Mishap Investigation Board to evaluate the cause of the failure,” NASA said. “The launch proceeded as planned from its liftoff at 2:09 a.m. PST through the ignition of the Taurus XL's second stage.”

The fairing failure occurred during the second stage engine burn. The exact location of the spacecraft is not yet known.

-- W.J. Hennigan

Photo: The Taurus the XL rocket and NASA's encapsulated Glory spacecraft await an early morning launch on the pad at Space Launch Complex at Vandenberg Air Force Base on Friday. Credit: NASA / Randy Beaudoin / Vandenberg Air Force Base