(UPDATED: 8:10 am EST) -- A NASA satellite bound to study earth's atmosphere failed to reach orbit today when it's payload fairing failed to separate three minutes after launch.
"The vehicle speed error is indicating under performance, which is expected due to a fairing not separating", Launch commentator Richard Haenke reported at five minutes into the flight.
Today's Taurus XL rocket launch is the third failure in the last four launches of the solid fueled rocket.
NASA's Glory spacecraft was to have joined several current satellites in orbit known as the A-Train as they research the composition of the earth's atmosphere, or "biosphere and climate", according to Goddard Space Flight Center.
Launch of an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL 3110 rocket with Glory occurred on time at 5:09:43 a.m. EST (2:09 a.m. local time) from space launch complex 576-East at Vandenberg, AFB in California.
This ninth flight of a Taurus rocket comes exactly two years following it's last flight which ended in failure when the payload fairing did not separate away from the craft minutes into the flight.
Five minutes into the ascent, reports began to filter in that the nose cone of the rocket had not separated on time.
"The flight was going well until the time of fairing separation", NASA launch commentator George Diller announced at the time. "We had data coming into the Mission Directors Center... that we did not have a successful fairing separation from the Taurus, and there was insufficient velocity with the fairing still on for the vehicle to achieve orbit."
The payload fairing is a white cone the top of the rocket which covered the 1,157 pound satellite, and protects it from the stresses of launch through the dense atmosphere.
"The fairing has considerable weight relative to the portion of the vehicle that's flying", John Brunschwyler of Orbital Sciences Corporation said after the 2009 Taurus loss. "So when it separates off, you get a jump in acceleration. We did not have that jump in acceleration.
The the four foot, 4 inch wide by seven foot long fairing should have split in two a fallen away. The fairing is nearly the same as those used on Orbital's air-launched Pegasus rockets from near Vandenberg.
The ninety-one foot tall rocket consists of four solid fueled stages.
The Thiokol-built first stage burns for the first 83 seconds of flight, followed by the second stage ignition and burn for the next 73 seconds of flight. The third and fourth stages burn at just over a minute each.
Glory was scheduled to separate later from Taurus' upper stage at 5:22 a.m. as it soared in a polar orbit.
Instead today, "All indications are that the satellite and rocket is in the southern Pacific Ocean somewhere", a dejected Taurus launch director Omar Baez of the Kennedy Space Center said this morning. "It's a very difficult situation we're in her," Baez stated a few minutes earlier.
In addition to Glory, three small cube science satellites were launched.
NASA's Educational Launch of Nanosatellite (ELaNa) is a program in which colleges and universities can fly their own experiment into low earth orbit using a CubeSat.
NASA told the crews of the International Space Station and shuttle Discovery as she laid docked 222 miles above earth.
"Sorry to hear that... that's unfortunate", commander Scott Kelly radioed back to Houston's Mission Control upon hearing the news.
"Let me just say that there's a great deal of emotional investment on the part of all the players on any spaceflight, but that's probably doubly so on a return-to-flight effort like this one," Ron Grabe, the general manager of Orbital's Launch Systems Group stated this morning.