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Antarctic splashdown as NASA launch fails

A ROCKET carrying a NASA global warming satellite splashed into the ocean near Antarctica yesterday after an early morning launch failure.

The mishap occurred shortly after the Taurus XL rocket carrying the Orbiting Carbon Observatory blasted off into the pre-dawn sky from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base.

A preliminary investigation revealed that the fairing on the rocket failed to separate several minutes after the launch.

The fairing is a clamshell structure that protects the satellite as it leaves the atmosphere.

The 447-kilogram satellite was supposed to be placed into an orbit around the Earth's poles some 645 kilometers high.

"We could not make orbit," said John Brunschwyler of the Orbital Sciences Corp, which built the rocket and satellite.

The rocket landed in the ocean near the icy continent, where a group of environment ministers from more than a dozen countries met scientists for talks this week.

The ministers landed on a remote corner of Antarctica on Monday to learn more about how the melting continent may threaten the Earth.

NASA said it would convene a team of experts to investigate the launch failure.

The carbon observatory was NASA's first satellite dedicated to monitoring carbon dioxide on a global scale.

Measurements collected from the US$280 million mission were expected to improve climate models and help researchers determine where greenhouse gas was coming from and how much was being absorbed by forests and oceans.

Yesterday's failure comes a month after Japan successfully launched the world's first satellite to monitor global-warming emissions.

Scientists currently depend on 282 land-based stations - and scattered instrumented aircraft flights - to monitor carbon dioxide at low altitudes.

Carbon dioxide is the leading greenhouse gas and its buildup helps trap heat from the sun, causing potentially dangerous warming of the planet.


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