NASA planned on launching the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 spacecraft this morning, but aborted the launch. The launch countdown hit 46 seconds left before an equipment malfunction occurred on the launch pad.

What happened? A problem arose in a system that sprays water under the rocket engines during liftoff. NASA officials didn’t have time to diagnose and repair the problem during the launch window.

NASA plans to try again tomorrow morning at the same time.

Once the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 finally gets off the ground, NASA officials will take it for a six to seven week test drive before getting it into its final orbit.

Once the spacecraft gets to its final orbit, 438 miles up, it will start taking millions of measurements of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. Every two weeks or so, the OCB2 will pass over the same spot.

The millions of measurements along with the measurements at the same spot will give scientists a clearer picture of carbon dioxide levels. Scientists will be on the look out for seasonal shifts in carbon dioxide along with how persistent weather events such as droughts and floods affect CO2 levels.

Scientists will also be observing how much carbon dioxide is absorbed by land and sea plants. In the past, plants have absorbed half of carbon dioxide emissions. Scientists want to know if that number still stands, or if it’s changing. The crazy thing? Emissions have tripled since 1960, yet significant amounts of carbon dioxide is still being absorbed by plants.

“Somewhere on earth, on land, one-quarter of all our carbon emissions released through fossil fuel emissions is disappearing,” said David Crisp, a senior research scientist at NASA’s JPL. “Wouldn’t it be nice to know where?”

The OCO2 will carry just a single instrument. The satellite will measure the colors of sunlight bouncing off the earth to give an indication of how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere.

OCO2’s mission costs about $468 million and is slated to last two years.


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