NASA Tries Again, Launches Global Warming Carbon Satellite Tracker; Likely to Pinpoint World’s Top Carbon Emitters

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | July 1, 2014 12:07 PM EST

Defying odds, US space agency NASA will relaunch today a satellite that will track the global warming-inducing carbon dioxide levels and its effects around the world.

REUTERS/Bill Ingalls/NASA/Hand
The upper levels of the launch gantry, surrounding the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite onboard, are seen at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California in this June 29, 2014 handout photo by NASA. The NASA satellite being prepared for launch early on July 1, 2014 is expected to reveal details about where carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas tied to climate change, is being released into Earth's atmosphere on a global scale. The two-year, $465 million project also will be able to pinpoint where the planet's forests and ocean are reabsorbing atmospheric carbon, a cycle that is key to Earth's temperature. REUTERS/Bill Ingalls/NASA/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY ENVIRONMENT) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

Known as the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2), the two-year project worth a cost of US$465 million has likewise been specifically programmed to pinpoint the location of the planet's forests and oceans that are reabsorbing atmospheric carbon.

Scientists said the OCO-2 will be positioned 438 miles (705 km) above the planet and inclined so that it passes the Earth over the same point equally at the same time every 16 days. This precise calculation will enable scientists to gain insight as to how levels of carbon dioxide vary over a specified period of time, either short term or long term.

"The data we will provide will help our decision-makers at both the local and federal levels be better-equipped to understand carbon dioxide's role in climate change because (the observatory) will be measuring this greenhouse globally," Betsy Edwards, programme executive at NASA headquarters in Washington, told reporters during a prelaunch news conference.

Although described as a sampling mission, but because the OCO-2 will be zooming on quite small target areas, about 1 square mile (3 square km), it is highly likely that the world's leading carbon emitters will also be seen.

"In principle we fully expect to be able to see points where there are large emissions, compared to points nearby, but this is really not a mapping mission. This is more of a sampling mission," Ralph Basilio, OCO project manager, said.

"It's really the fate of carbon dioxide once it's in the atmosphere that we're trying to really put our finger on," project scientist Michael Gunson of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory said during a recent prelaunch news conference.

At present, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are placed at 400 parts per million.

It was in 2009 when NASA first hurtled an OCO, but the launch failed when the original satellite crashed into the ocean after liftoff.

OCO-2 will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 5:56 am EDT (0956 GMT) on Tuesday aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket. The satellite was built by Orbital Sciences Corp.

"This will allow us to understand what processes are controlling how much carbon is absorbed in a given time and place," Anna Michalak, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, told Global News.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Bill Ingalls/NASA/Hand / )
The upper levels of the launch gantry, surrounding the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket with the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite onboard, are seen at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California in this June 29, 2014 handout photo by NASA. The NASA satellite being prepared for launch early on July 1, 2014 is expected to reveal details about where carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas tied to climate change, is being released into Earth's atmosphere on a global scale. The two-year, $465 million project also will be able to pinpoint where the planet's forests and ocean are reabsorbing atmospheric carbon, a cycle that is key to Earth's temperature. REUTERS/Bill Ingalls/NASA/Handout via Reuters (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY ENVIRONMENT) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
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