NASA is set to launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite on Tuesday. The satellite’s mission? To give scientists more information on carbon dioxide emissions. The satellite gives scientists the tools they need to record detailed carbon dioxide measurements. It should also help give a better understanding on “where all of the carbon dioxide comes from and where it is being stored when it leaves the air” according to a statement from Alan Buis of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

A better understanding of carbon dioxide and how it behaves in the atmosphere will give scientists the info they need for “evaluating options for mitigating or adapting to climate change.”

Gregg Marland, a professor at the Geology Department of Appalachian State University in North Carolina, explained a bit more about what the OCO-2 will do.

“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 Marland. “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. 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.”

Let’s hope the Orbiting Carbon Observatory makes it up there this time. As the name points out, this will be NASA’s second attempt at getting the satellite into orbit. The first satellite failed to enter orbit back in 2009. An investigation pointed to a failure to separate of the payload fairing. This led to the satellite failing to reach orbit and burning up on reentry.

The 2009 launch was on a Taurus rocket. This time around, NASA selected the United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket to carry the satellite. There are no issues with the satellite or rocket, and weather conditions call for a 100% chance of “acceptable conditions at launch.”


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