Thursday, July 3, 2014

OCO-2 Lifts off on carbon-counting mission

Steven Siceloff at NASA: A Delta II rocket blazed off the launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California early Wednesday morning to begin a landmark mission to survey carbon dioxide gas in Earth's atmosphere.

NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2, is expected to provide insight into how the planet adjusts to the increased production of carbon dioxide from a vantage point in orbit that will allow it to take readings on a scale never achieved before.

While ground stations have been monitoring carbon dioxide concentrations, OCO-2 will be the first spacecraft to conduct a global-scale reading over several seasons. The spacecraft is expected to produce detailed readings to provide regional sources of carbon dioxide as well as sinks for the greenhouse gas.

"There's quite a lot of urgency to see what we can get from a satellite like OCO-2," said David Crisp, the science team lead for the mission.

...The mission is the first of its kind in the agency's extensive history of Earth-observing spacecraft. The spacecraft was launched to replace the first OCO that did not make it into orbit due to an anomaly in February 2009. The spacecraft carries one instrument and its sole focus is detecting carbon dioxide and watching from space as the Earth "breathes" to see what becomes of the gas.

The instrument is precise enough that researchers will be able to count the number of carbon dioxide molecules in the layers of the atmosphere and use the data to draw conclusions about how the increasing amount of gas will affect things like the global temperature. OCO-2's mission is to last at least two years....

OCO-2's liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base, image by NASA

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