NASA scrubs launch of global warming satellite

NASA scrubbed the launch of a Delta II rocket Tuesday, 46 seconds before it was to carry the agency’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite into orbit.

The space agency blamed a failure of the water suppression system of the liftoff pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County.

“It’s a system in the pad structure itself, not in the rocket,” said NASA spokesman Steve Cole. “It didn’t do what it was expected to do.”

The water system is designed to buffer sound and thermal effects from the launch with cascades of water just before ignition of the rocket engines.

The launch has been tentatively rescheduled for 2:56 a.m. Wednesday.


“The pad folks are troubleshooting what the cause of the issue was,” Cole said. “They’re working that right now. We expect to know within a fairly short time whether we’re a go or no go for early tomorrow. We’re hoping to get some good news fairly soon.”

Five years ago, the first version of the satellite was destroyed after it failed to separate from its launch vehicle, an Orbital Taurus XL rocket, and burned up as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere. The cost of that mission was $209 million, according to a NASA investigation.

The $465-million replacement set to launch Wednesday would measure and map carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to provide scientists with a better understanding of how Earth’s oceans, soils and forests absorb CO2 and whether that ability is changing, according to the space agency.

The satellite’s nickname, OCO, comes from the scientific annotation for a carbon dioxode molecule: two oxygen atoms flanking a carbon atom in linear fashion.