Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2)
July 1, 2014

Orbiting Carbon Observatory Launch Scrubbed

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

UPDATE: July 1, 2014, 5:15 AM

From NASA: Today's scheduled launch of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was scrubbed because of a failure in the launch pad water flow.


Several years after the failure of its first mission, NASA will launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2), which is intended to focus exclusively on studying atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The space agency said this mission aims at learning more about the nearly 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by human activity each year.

“If you visualize a column of air that stretches from Earth’s surface to the top of the atmosphere, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 will identify how much of that vertical column is carbon dioxide, with an understanding that most is emitted at the surface,” said Gregg Marland, a climatologist at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, in a recent NASA statement. “Simply, it will act like a plane observing the smoke from forest fires down below, with the task of assessing where the fires are and how big they are.”

“Compare that aerial capability with sending a lot of people into the forest looking for fires” he added. “The observatory will use its vantage point from space to capture a picture of where the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide are, rather than our cobbling data together from multiple sources with less frequency, reliability and detail.”

[ Watch the Video: OCO-2: NASA’s Carbon Counter ]

To study carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the OCO-2 will examine the wavelengths of sunlight the greenhouse gas absorbs. To identify very small variations in this absorption from one wavelength to the next, the OCO-2 instrument will divide light into many thin bands of wavelengths. In three wavelength zones, a small portion of the overall spectrum, will be able to assess over 3,000 individual bands.

The satellite will gather 24 measurements every second, amassing approximately a million soundings each day. Of these, around 100,000 are anticipated to be adequately cloud free to offer highly useable information. By comparison, the best carbon dioxide-observing satellite presently in orbit takes 4 seconds to make one sounding and collects less than 20,000 pieces of data per day, with around 500 of those being highly useful, NASA said.

Kevin Gurney, a sustainability expert at Arizona State University, Tempe, said data from the OCO-2 will compliment his NASA-funded effort to pinpoint emissions on scales as small as an individual building or street.

"This research and OCO-2 together will act like partners in closing the carbon budget, with my data products estimating movements from the bottom up and OCO-2 estimating sources from the top down," Gurney said. “By tackling the problem from both perspectives, we’ll stand to achieve an independent, mutually compatible view of the carbon cycle. And the insight gained by combining these top-down and bottom-up approaches might take on special significance in the near future as our policymakers consider options for regulating carbon dioxide across the entire globe.”

Studying carbon dioxide and climate change is a hot political issue, but project scientists said their work will simply inform the debate.

"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," said Betsy Edwards, program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington, according to Reuters.

> Read More: Five Things about OCO-2