Taurus XL
Launch vehicle Taurus XL
Launch site Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, USA
Date/Time 2009-02-24 0955 UTC
Description Payload fairing separation failure
Cause unknown (four possible causes identified)
Payload OCO (Orbiting Carbon Observatory )
Desired orbit Sun-synchronous, near-polar


The payload fairing on the Taurus XL launch vehicle failed to separate. Owing to the fairing's mass the satellite did not reach orbit and crashed into the ocean near Antarctica. The rocket and the satellite were both manufactured by Orbital Sciences Corp.

A Mishap Investigation Board led by Rick Obenschain, deputy director at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center verified that the Taurus launch vehicle fairing failed to separate upon command.

The board identified four potential causes that could have resulted in the fairing not separating:

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.

Despite all the efforts, a very similar failure occured on the launch of NASA's Glory satellite aboard a Taurus XL on 4 March 2011.

See also:

Last updated: 05 March 2011

Launch Failures Chronology