NASA satellite crashes

The $278-million Orbiting Carbon Observatory was designed to measure greenhouse gas emissions. It plunges into the ocean near Antarctica after a mechanical problem.

A NASA satellite designed to measure greenhouse gas emissions and pinpoint global warming dangers crashed Tuesday after a protective covering failed to separate from the craft shortly after launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The loss of the $278-million satellite came as a severe blow to NASA's climate monitoring efforts, as well as the builder of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.

"Our whole team, at a very personal level, is disappointed," Orbital Science's John Brunschwyler said at an early-morning briefing just hours after the satellite plunged into the ocean near Antarctica.

Launch director Chuck Dovale said the failure was a reminder that "even when you do your best, you can still fail."

NASA and Orbital Sciences began an immediate investigation. Early indications pointed to a problem with the faring, the clamshell device that shields the satellite during liftoff from the high heat caused by air friction.

The faring is designed to fall away about three minutes into the flight, when the rocket reaches an altitude where the air is too thin to harm the satellite.

Evidence from telemetry received by ground operators suggests the faring never separated. With the extra weight, the satellite could not reach orbit, the science team said.

The first sign that something was wrong came shortly after the 1:55 a.m. launch, when ground controllers noticed there was no jump in acceleration in the two-stage Taurus XL rocket that would have been expected when the heavy faring was shed.

The 966-pound satellite was to be placed in an orbit 400 miles above Earth to spend two years measuring carbon dioxide emissions, the principal gas blamed in global warming.

Using a set of spectrometers, the satellite was also to identify the places where carbon is neutralized, or removed from the atmosphere by natural processes. These places, mainly forests and the seas, are known as carbon sinks.

Despite convincing evidence global warming is occurring, scientists are not certain how these carbon sinks work, and whether it might be possible to use them more efficiently to combat global warming.

Climate scientists were hoping the Orbiting Carbon Observatory could tell them whether current voluntary worldwide efforts to control carbon dioxide emissions were beginning to work.

Brunschwyler said that before Tuesday's failure, Orbital Sciences had 56 successful launches in 57 attempts.

Never before had they had a problem with a faring, he said.

The lone previous failure occurred in 2001, when an ozone-monitoring satellite and a cargo of human ashes plunged into the Indian Ocean after launch.

In January, Japan launched a satellite called GOSAT that will make many of the same measurements that the NASA satellite was designed to perform.

With Tuesday's failure, NASA managers said they would study the situation before deciding whether to build another carbon observatory.

"We are going to look at how best to advance" global warming research, said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth sciences division at NASA headquarters in Washington. Whether that would be a duplicate of the lost craft or something different, he did not say.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory was managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge. The Taurus XL rocket carried hydrazine fuel, a hazardous material. But launch officials said they believed the fuel was burned away during the launch.


Yahoo Search Service Will Have Variety of Commercial Models

Yahoo's BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service) will have a variety of commercial models including revenue sharing on advertising and co-branding of sites, apart from a fee-based model that the company announced last week.

"We will look at a variety of options," said David Filo, co-founder of Yahoo in an interview on Sunday. Filo was in Bangalore for Yahoo's Open Hack Day, a developer event with about 360 participants.

For example, advertisers on Yahoo Search will be given the option to also advertise on Web sites of Yahoo's BOSS partners, Filo said. If developers are not interested in revenue-sharing on advertising, then they can opt for a traffic fee to use the Yahoo platform, he added.

Yahoo announced the BOSS program last year, which lets developers use Yahoo's search infrastructure and algorithms and create their own customized search services.

Yahoo plans to charge a fee late in the second half of this year for use of the service above a set daily limit of search queries. Filo said the infrastructure and engineering costs for search are expensive. The search market is dominated by Google and Yahoo, and as a result of that dominance, fewer new ideas are introduced, he added.

BOSS is intended to throw open Yahoo's infrastructure and engineering and encourage new ideas from students, developers and start-ups, Filo said.

Yahoo has hundreds of engineers working on search, but the company wants thousands of other developers outside the company to start innovating on top of Yahoo Search.

It will take between six months to a year for new services on the BOSS platform to gain traction. When that happens, Yahoo will be open to new business relationships with BOSS partners, Filo said.

Building a relationship with developers through advertising, or licensing of their technology, or co-branding will be easier if they are using Yahoo's platform, Filo said.

Earlier this month, Yahoo began to test Search Pad, an online notepad for users of its search engine, that allows them to save links, type notes, and copy and paste content from Web sites. Users of Search Pad can now share information from the notepad through e-mail or print it out.

Yahoo will work on a number of other options for users to share information from Search Pad, including posting information from the notepad on social networking sites like Facebook, Filo said. The kind of information typically stored on Search Pad may not be the kind that would be shared on instant messaging programs or Twitter, but Yahoo will consider adding these options if users want it, he added.

Yahoo is also focusing its resources and will drop some products and projects this year, according to Filo.

The company said in January that it is closing down its Briefcase online storage service by March 30 because users are increasingly using e-mail for storage. Briefcase is an example of a product that wasn't critical to users, Filo said.


Animal trackers collaborate on new Google Earth for oceans

Pacific Grove: A consortium of researchers led by Stanford University Professor Barbara Block collaborated with Google for more than a year, providing animal tracking data for the new Google Earth release, which features a three-dimensional, interactive ocean.

In the animal tracking layer, called GTOPP (Global Tagging of Pelagic Predators), users can explore the large-scale migrations of tunas, sharks, whales, seals, sea turtles and seabirds – seeing where they go through time, and even swimming along with them in special "fly-through" animations, which provide an "animal's eye view" of the open ocean seascape, says a press release by EurekAlert.

The collaboration between GTOPP and Google has been a long-term goal for Block and her colleagues.

"Google Earth provides a powerful, intuitive interface for exploring the kinds of data these animals produce from electronic tags "says Block. "This allows users – from scientists to school kids – to quickly view and interact with animal tracks. And ultimately, they'll be able to use this interface to access related data such as oceanographic data or diving data from that same location at the same time. Its an important evolution in being able to "see" the largest portion of our planet."

The ability to simultaneously tag and track large numbers of open ocean animals, representing a variety of different species, has been pioneered over more than a decade by Block and her colleagues Drs. Daniel Costa from UC Santa Cruz, Stephen Bograd from NOAA and Randy Kochevar, also of Stanford University. In a program called, "Tagging of Pacific Predators" (TOPP), which is one of the field programs of the global Census of Marine Life, these four principal investigators led a team of over 100 scientists from seven different countries. In the first eight years of the program they tagged over 4,000 individual animals, representing 23 different species, and collected over 1,000,000 days of data. Block also leads a program in the Atlantic Ocean called TAG-A-Giant that has placed over 1000 electronic tags in Atlantic bluefin tuna.

In October, 2008 Block with the support of the Sloan Foundation brought together a broad consortium of researchers for the "Biologging III" conference to explore how the researchers could combine forces to put animal tracking data into one portal. This has given rise the Global Tagging of Pelagic Predators. The data to be featured upon release of the new Google software in the GTOPP layer is a small sample of data from a variety of projects, all of which utilize electronic tags to follow animals over months and years, and across vast distances.

Block explains, "The idea of GTOPP is to create a Web-based portal where researchers around the globe can submit tracking data, that represents live uplinks or positions from a wide variety of animals. The goal is to combine the data with other oceanographic datasets. By viewing tracking data from multiple species simultaneously, in the context of ocean conditions, it is possible to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of how the open ocean ecosystems work. We can begin to see ocean hotspots – those critical habitat regions where animals spend a great deal of time – as well as the ocean highways that link them together."

The open ocean is experiencing significant impacts of human overexploitation. Large marine fish such as Giant bluefin in the Atlantic ocean, leatherback sea turtles, albatross and sharks are all experiencing steep declines in their populations.

"In order to sustainably manage open ocean fisheries, we need to provide resource managers with better information about how these animals live, and how they use the ocean," says Block. "If we can identify the key locations and times where these animals feed or breed, for example, we can help create management tools that protect them where they most need protection – the open sea. Google has helped our efforts to visualize the deep blue sea- this enormous amount of the planet- that is dfficult to access – and we now have it at our fingertips. "