Satellite loss blow to Earth studies


  • Bernice Wuethrich


On October 15, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed the loss of Landsat 6, an Earth-orbiting satellite that was slated to record, in fine detail, changes on the face of the planet. Scientists say that despite a flawless launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on October 5, the remote-sensing satellite never reached orbit.

NOAA has established a Failure Review Board to identify the disaster's cause. One possibility is that after separating from its Titan II space launch vehicle, Landsat 6's own solid-fuel rocket failed to fire, according to James Ellickson, chief of Landsat operations for NOAA. In that case, Landsat 6 probably would have “reentered and burned,” Ellickson said. Its debris would have sunk somewhere in the vast South Pacific.