NASA to Launch Carbon Dioxide-Monitoring Spacecraft Next Month

NASA is gearing up for next month's launch of a spacecraft that should help scientists better understand the drivers behind Earth's changing climate.

The agency's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite (OCO-2) is in final preparations for its July 1 liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The mission is designed to provide a comprehensive look at atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping greenhouse gas thought to be responsible for much of the warming trend observed on Earth recently.

OCO-2 "will mesaure global concentrations of carbon dioxide and watch the Earth breathe," Betsy Edwards, OCO-2 program executive at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., told reporters Thursday (June 12).

Once aloft in a polar orbit 438 miles (705 kilometers) above Earth, the satellite will use its single scientific instrument (a grading spectrometer) to make hundreds of thousands of such measurements every day, with an anticipated precision of 1 part per million of carbon dioxide, Edwards added.

The resulting data will shed new light on Earth's carbon cycle, identifying natural and manmade sources of CO2 as well as the "sinks" that pull the gas out of the air, researchers said.

"The OCO-2 mission will collect … measurements with the accuracy, coverage and resolution that we need to answer these important questions about where carbon dioxide is being absorbed and released in the natural global cycles across the globe," said Annmarie Eldering, mission deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

OCO-2 is nearly a carbon copy of the original Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) spacecraft, which was lost during launch in February 2009 when the nose-cone fairing of its Orbital Sciences Taurus XL rocket failed to open as planned. (A similar problem with a Taurus XL fairing also doomed NASA's $424 million Glory climate satellite during its March 2011 launch.)



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