After a handful of delays, the Orbiting Carbon-2 Satellite has achieved an initial orbit of 429 miles. The CO2 monitoring satellite lit up the night sky when it launched just before 3 a.m. local time from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
Orbiting Carbon-2’s mission? To measure carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere 24 times a second. This data will give scientists a better understanding of carbon dioxide’s role in climate change.
“With the launch of this spacecraft, decision-makers and scientists will get a much better idea of the role of carbon dioxide in climate change, as OCO-2 measures this greenhouse gas globally and provides incredibly new insights into where and how carbon dioxide is moving into, and then out of, the atmosphere,” Betsy Edwards, OCO-2 program executive at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., said during a pre-launch press briefing on Sunday.
This morning’s launch went off without a hitch. It was described as “a perfect ride into space” by OCO-2 Project Manager Ralph Basilio at a post-launch press conference.
Basilio said all systems were functioning on the OCO-2. Solar arrays deployed correctly, communications were established and first checks show a healthy satellite. Good news for the team who saw failure in 2009 when the satellite failed to reach orbit and plummeted back to Earth. That failure was due to a malfunction with the Taurus XL rocket. Today’s launch was on the back of a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket.
When can we expect useful data from the OCO-2? Initial checks will take about two weeks before the satellite is moved to its final, operational orbit. After that, instrument checks will take place. Basilio expects data production to start sometime in early 2015. The OCO-2 is expected to remain in orbit for at least two years.
The data the OCO-2 collects will be used to generate maps of carbon dioxide emissions. This will give scientists a better handle on where carbon dioxide builds up and how long-term weather events such as droughts affect emissions.