After an initial disastrous attempt in 2009, NASA will attempt a second satellite launch at precisely 2:56 a.m. PDT on Tuesday at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
In 2009, NASA unfortunately failed to launch a $209 million satellite. Orbiting Carbon Observatory was supposed to gravitate around the Earth and measure the CO2 emissions in a more precise manner than ever. After several years, the NASA launches OCO-2, a nearly identical satellite, but this time they chose a different rocket to place the satellite on Earth’s orbit.
Why NASA launches OCO-2
According to a press release, NASA claims that “Humans release nearly 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. The amount varies from nation to nation, but that averages about 5.5 tons per person.” Out of the total quantity of CO2 released in the atmosphere, a quarter of it dissolves in the oceans and a quarter returns to Earth. What puzzles NASA is this: what are the processes that make an important amount of the CO2 released in the atmosphere go missing? “Somewhere on earth, on land, one-quarter of all our carbon emissions released through fossil fuel emissions is disappearing,” said David Crisp for New York Times.
The CO2 levels in the atmosphere fluctuate in accordance to regions and seasons. What OCO-2 will perform is a very accurate mapping. The data will help scientists identify where the highest levels of CO2 are produced and which areas absorb the gas. The satellite will circle Earth every 100 minutes when it will settle at 438 miles high in the polar orbit. OCO-2 will carry a single instrument capable of performing a clear task – to measure the color of the sunlight reflected back from Earth. The specter of colors will tell the scientists information about the density of the CO2. Out of 1 million measurements taken each day, only 100.000 will be usable. The rest of 90 percent will be corrupted due to cloud interference. Yet, it will be a huge improvement, as today there are only 20.000 measurements per day, out of which 500 are useful. The area measured by the instrument will not by larger than New York city’s Central Park, according to NASA.
NASA launches OCO-2 to increase the 17 satellite fleet already circling the Earth. The OCO-2 will provide vital information for scientists working on understanding the processes leading to climate change. This $468 million mission will only have a 30 second available launch window. If unsuccessful, it can be postponed for one day.