Sources: USA Today, Reuters.
An advanced rocket booster carrying a 29-foot, earth-orbiting satellite to study the planet’s carbon content had to be fired Saturday afternoon due to a flight control snag, allowing the machine to burn up in the atmosphere, the US space agency said.
The launch, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, went off without a hitch. But the early orbit-raising burn by the Centaur rocket was delayed due to “an issue with the onboard controller during the morning ascent,” the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said in a statement.
The Centaur is designed to fire from the back of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, which usually carries the SBIRS Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) radar system.
SpaceX and Orbital ATK have followed United Launch Alliance’s lead in recently starting to launch from California rather than Florida because of tax breaks on company launches there.
Vandenberg normally launches in April, but due to expected cold weather is looking to launch in March or April to avoid the freeze-up of the upper atmosphere.
“We are looking to have another launch from Vandenberg next month,” said agency spokesman John Crouch.
Saturday’s satellite mission was running behind schedule due to two pieces of paperwork delays with the US Forest Service, according to launch-control official Gary deBarra. The insurance policy with the Geosynchronous Earth Orbit was due to launch on Saturday at around 8.25pm, but that’s when the problem cropped up, deBarra said.
The Centaur rocket requires a four-hour holding period as it separates from the other parts of the launch vehicle, said John Gauger, a SpaceX spokesman. That meant the rocket had no chance to collect data while in the Earth’s atmosphere to be passed to Earth’s surface operators or be used for command purposes, Gauger said.
“We haven’t seen the full effect of that,” he said.
There is good news, Gauger said. The Centaur rocket will be partially destroyed, albeit for a controlled manner, and there will be “minimal re-entry burn out of sight,” and no large pieces of it can endanger the environment, he said.
Even though the satellite might not have been finished and couldn’t help save the firefighters battling a rapidly spreading wildfire in Missouri, Gauger said the space agency will use the data from the mission to help improve wildfire risk prediction.