VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, California (Reuters) - A rocket carrying the Glory Earth-observing satellite launched on Friday but failed to place the satellite into orbit, sending both plummeting into the Pacific, NASA said on Friday.
The space agency said a protective covering on the Taurus XL rocket did not separate as planned three minutes after launch at 5:09 a.m. EST/1009 GMT. With the covering intact, the rocket was too heavy to get the satellite into orbit.
"We failed to make orbit and all indications are that the satellite and rocket are in the South Pacific Ocean somewhere," NASA launch director Omar Baez said at a news conference.
The satellite and rocket were built by Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corp, which suffered a similar failure with a Taurus XL rocket in 2009 on another NASA launch.
Shares in Orbital Sciences, where sales to the U.S. government and its contractors make up 80 percent of the company's business, fell by as much as 10 percent in morning trade.
After the 2009 launch failure, Orbital Sciences redesigned the system for shedding the protective covering.
Ron Grabe of Orbital Sciences said the company considered the problem to be fixed and had carried out three successful launches with the new system before Friday's failure.
The Glory satellite was to have provided scientists information on how the sun and atmospheric particles called aerosols affected Earth's climate.
The satellite had been scheduled for launch February 23 but was delayed by a computer problem.
Orbital Sciences has been expected to be among the private companies that will be used to get cargo to the International Space Station once NASA retires its shuttle fleet.
(Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Paul Simao)