NASA Releases Orbiting Carbon Observatory Accident Summary
PASADENA, Calif. - A NASA panel that investigated the unsuccessful Feb. 24
launch of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, or OCO, has completed its report.
NASA's OCO satellite to study atmospheric carbon dioxide launched aboard a
Taurus XL rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Feb. 24 at
1:55 a.m. PST, but it failed to reach orbit.
The Mishap Investigation Board led by Rick Obenschain, deputy director at NASA's
Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., verified that the Taurus launch
vehicle fairing failed to separate upon command. The fairing is a clamshell structure
that encapsulates the satellite as it travels through the atmosphere. The failure to
shed the fairing mass prevented the satellite from reaching its planned orbit and
resulted in its destruction.
The board identified four potential causes that could have resulted in the fairing
-- A failure of the frangible joint subsystem. A frangible joint is an explosive device
that provides instantaneous separation of flight vehicle structures while maintaining
confinement of explosive debris.
-- A failure in the electrical subsystem that prevented sufficient electrical current
to initiate the required ordnance devices.
-- A failure in the pneumatic system, which supplies pressure to thrusters which separate the fairing.
-- A cord snagged on a frangible joint side rail nut plate.
The panel also provided recommendations to prevent any future problems associated with
the four hardware components that could have caused the OCO accident.
The six-member board began its investigation in early March. The panel conducted hardware
testing; performed and reviewed engineering analysis and simulation data; reviewed telemetry
data; collected and secured more than 2,000 documents; and conducted 78 interviews of critical
personnel associated with the mission.
The official report of the board contains information restricted by U.S. International Traffic
in Arms Regulations and company-sensitive proprietary information. As a result, the board has
prepared a summary of its report, which provides an overview of publicly releasable findings
and recommendations regarding the OCO mission failure. The summary is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/oco
Media contact: Katherine Trinidad 202-358-1100
NASA Headquarters, Washington