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 most advanced spacecraft dedicated to studying the causes of climate change is now on its way to its near-polar operational orbit some 438 miles above Earth, where it will begin its two-year mission to identify sources and pockets of atmospheric carbon dioxide.The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 is a satellite tasked with tracking carbon sequestration around the world. It could revolutionize climate science, if only it could get into orbit. The original satellite crashed into the ocean, while the replacement’s launch was scrubbed in the final minute of countdown. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO2) is the first satellite to specifically track carbon on a global scale.
The space agency successfully launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) at 2:56 a.m. Pacific on Wednesday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta 2 rocket. Just under an hour after liftoff, OCO-2 separated from its second stage booster and entered a preliminary 429-mile orbit, NASA said in a statement.
“The advanced atmospheric observatory has also established communications with ground controllers and unfurled its twin sets of solar arrays,” the space agency said, adding that “initial telemetry shows the spacecraft is in excellent condition.”
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 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.
NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, managed the launch preparation and flight into orbit. The OCO-2 mission is handled by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
The Delta II has been one of NASA’s most reliable launchers ever, registering more than 150 launches for NASA, the Air Force and commercial satellite makers from 1989 to 2011.
“Climate change is the challenge of our generation,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “With OCO-2 and our existing fleet of satellites, NASA is uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of documenting and understanding these changes, predicting the ramifications and sharing information about these changes for the benefit of society.”
The OCO-2 launch was the first of three orbiting science missions using Delta 2 rockets which NASA awarded the ULA in July 2012 with a $412 million contract.
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