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The Case Of The Fairing That Would Not

Let's limit the spectrum of failure causes based on what we currently know. The failure seems to be limited to the separation ordnance device and its electronics since we know the proper initiation signals were sent and there was sufficient power to execute the separation sequence. This leaves apparently three possibilities: the mission was sabotaged; or the separation explosives were faulty; or, the separation electronics including connectors were either faulty or not properly connected. It seems unlikely that anyone would want to sabotage such a low profile mission, unless someone feared the results of measuring the effects of humanity's production of carbon dioxide. Explosives are extremely reliable in terms of exploding. This leaves us with separation device electronics and connectors as the most likely source of the failure. We can only hypothesize based on available information.
by Launchspace staff
Bethesda MD (SPX) Mar 02, 2009
Last week NASA tried to launch the Orbiting Carbon Observer (OCO) and an unusual thing happened on the way to orbit over the South Pacific. At the point in the flight (2 minutes 55 seconds) when the payload fairing separates from the launch vehicle's third stage thereby exposing the payload for its later release into space, nothing happened.

Oops! The good news is the payload continued to be protected from the environment by the fairing. The bad news is with the fairing still attached, the launch vehicle did not enough energy to achieve orbit. Thus, as far as we know, the payload is still protected, but it's sitting at the bottom of the South Pacific.

How could this happen? Fairing separations on launch vehicles are generally so reliable we don't even consider this type of failure as a possible risk. Everything related to fairing separation is redundant, except the explosive material. Usually, a number of tests are performed to guarantee successful fairing separation.

With the Taurus XL which was used for OCO, the fairing normally separates as a result of shaped ordnance devices that explosively split the fairing into two halves and push these away from the launch vehicle to avoid damaging the payload.

Telemetry from the launch vehicle confirmed that the flight computer sent the proper commands to the ordnance electronics. There was sufficient power to initiate the separation sequence. All the evidence points to a failure of the ordnance to fire.

Such a failure is extremely rare indeed. Explosives often go off when that's not wanted but in this case, the opposite happened.

Deputy Director at NASA Goddard, Rick Obenschain, has been named Chairman of the OCO Investigation Board which will scour all of the available data, telemetry files and testimony related to the flight. Typically this process takes from several weeks to a few months.

Following this review, the Investigation Board will write a report outlining the most probable causes of the failure. They will recommend corrective actions which will likely be implemented in order to prevent a repeat of this particular type of failure in the future. Now, however, we can only speculate about what actually happened.

Let's limit the spectrum of failure causes based on what we currently know. The failure seems to be limited to the separation ordnance device and its electronics since we know the proper initiation signals were sent and there was sufficient power to execute the separation sequence.

This leaves apparently three possibilities: the mission was sabotaged; or the separation explosives were faulty; or, the separation electronics including connectors were either faulty or not properly connected. It seems unlikely that anyone would want to sabotage such a low profile mission, unless someone feared the results of measuring the effects of humanity's production of carbon dioxide.

Explosives are extremely reliable in terms of exploding. This leaves us with separation device electronics and connectors as the most likely source of the failure. We can only hypothesize based on available information.

Given the fact that the Investigation Board cannot examine any flight hardware, their findings, too, might be speculative. We will see.

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NASA Kepler Telescope To Launch Aboard Delta II Rocket
Cape Canaveral FL (SPX) Mar 02, 2009
Launch of NASA's Kepler telescope is targeted for no earlier than Friday, March 6, from Pad 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. There are two launch windows, from 7:49 - 7:52 p.m. and 8:13 - 8:16 p.m. Pacific time (10:49 - 10:52 p.m. and 11:13 - 11:16 p.m. Eastern time).







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