Update: Bad Day For Climate Science

This morning, the launch vehicle carrying NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) experienced a failure after its payload fairing failed to separate during ascent and the whole business was dumped into the ocean near Antarctica. The launch failure ends a promising chapter for climate change science before it even began.

The satellite was designed to collect data on greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, identify where those gases are coming from and how they are absorbed — in other words, provide the most accurate account of greenhouse gas emissions to date.

NASA is conducting a news conference on the failure now and I’ll come back this afternoon to add some details to this post.

Update: The Washington Post has a good write up on the OCO failure this morning, essentially repeating the information above. The Post adds that there is a slim chance the OCO could be rebuilt.

Noting there is $400 million for Earth science in the recently passed economic stimulus package, Ed Weiler, NASA’s associate administrator for science, told the paper, “We have to find out how many leftover spare parts there are, how much it would take to put it together.”

A NASA spokesman added that the group will not stop global warming and carbon dioxide research because of the satellite failure. The satellite manufacturer, Orbital Sciences Corp., says a carbon copy of the satellite could be built “pretty quickly.”

The paper also notes that the OCO was also slated to monitor carbon sinks, such as forests as well as sources of CO2 emissions.

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