The NASA QuikTOMS ozone monitoring satellite launched earlier today was lost due to the failure of the commercial launch vehicle purchased by the Agency to deliver the payload into orbit.

QuikTOMS was a secondary payload on board a Taurus rocket launched by Orbital Sciences Corporation at 2:49 p.m. EDT from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Everything appeared to go as planned with the launch until approximately 83 seconds into the flight when there was an apparent problem between the first and second stage separation. For reasons yet unknown, the rocket appeared to briefly veer off course before correction motors restored the vehicle to its proper flight path.

Flight managers believe problem with staging caused the rocket to lose velocity, which resulted in QuikTOMS and the other payloads being placed in an improper orbit with insufficient speed.

“Obviously we are disappointed at the loss of the QuikTOMS satellite,” said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Associate Administrator for the Office of Earth Science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This loss of QuikTOMS does not mean a loss in our ozone monitoring capability. We have the current TOMS Earth Probe satellite in orbit which will continue its observations and we plan to launch the EOS-Aura satellite in 2003 to assure the continuity of these critical ozone measurements.”

Orbital Sciences Corporation will convene a failure investigation committee, to determine the cause of today’s launch failure. NASA has been invited to lend its expertise, as an observer, to the investigation. Orbital believes that it gathered sufficient data during the flight to enable the company to identify the cause of the failure.