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Forum:Satellites - Robotic Probes
Topic:NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2)
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OCO-2 will launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket and maneuver into a 438-mile (705-kilometer) altitude, near-polar orbit. It will become the lead satellite in a constellation of five other international Earth monitoring satellites that circle Earth once every 99 minutes and cross the equator each day near 1:36 p.m. local time, making a wide range of nearly simultaneous Earth observations. OCO-2 is designed to operate for at least two years.

The spacecraft will sample the global geographic distribution of the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide and allow scientists to study their changes over time more completely than can be done with any existing data. Since 2009, Earth scientists have been preparing for OCO-2 by taking advantage of observations from the Japanese GOSAT satellite. OCO-2 replaces a nearly identical NASA spacecraft lost because of a rocket launch mishap in February 2009.

At approximately 400 parts per million, atmospheric carbon dioxide is now at its highest level in at least the past 800,000 years. The burning of fossil fuels and other human activities are currently adding nearly 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year, producing an unprecedented buildup in this greenhouse gas.

Greenhouse gases trap the sun's heat within Earth's atmosphere, warming the planet's surface and helping to maintain habitable temperatures from the poles to the equator. Scientists have concluded increased carbon dioxide from human activities, particularly fossil fuel burning and deforestation, has thrown Earth's natural carbon cycle off balance, increasing global surface temperatures and changing our planet's climate.

Currently, less than half the carbon dioxide emitted into Earth's atmosphere by human activities stays there. Some of the remainder is absorbed by Earth's ocean, but the location and identity of the natural land sinks believed to be absorbing the rest is not well understood. OCO-2 scientists hope to coax these sinks out of hiding and resolve a longstanding scientific puzzle.

"Knowing what parts of Earth are helping remove carbon from our atmosphere will help us understand whether they will keep doing so in the future," said Michael Gunson, OCO-2 project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California. "Understanding the processes controlling carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will help us predict how fast it will build up in the future. Data from this mission will help scientists reduce uncertainties in forecasts of how much carbon dioxide will be in the atmosphere and improve the accuracy of global climate change predictions."

OCO-2 measurements will be combined with data from ground stations, aircraft and other satellites to help answer questions about the processes that regulate atmospheric carbon dioxide and its role in Earth's climate and carbon cycle. Mission data will also help assess the usefulness of space-based measurements of carbon dioxide for monitoring emissions.

The observatory's science instrument features three, high-resolution spectrometers that spread reflected sunlight into its component colors, then precisely measure the intensity of each color. Each spectrometer is optimized to record a different specific color absorbed by carbon dioxide and oxygen molecules in Earth's atmosphere. The less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the more light the spectrometers detect. By analyzing the amount of light, scientists can estimate the relative concentrations of these chemicals.

The new observatory will dramatically increase the number of observations of carbon dioxide, collecting hundreds of thousands of measurements each day when the satellite flies over Earth's sunlit hemisphere. High-precision, detailed, near-global observations are needed to characterize carbon dioxide's distribution because the concentration of carbon dioxide varies by only a few percent throughout the year on regional to continental scales. Scientists will analyze the OCO-2 data, using computer models similar to those used to predict the weather, to locate and understand the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide.

OCO-2 is a NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder Program mission managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Virginia, built the spacecraft bus and provides mission operations under JPL's leadership. The science instrument was built by JPL, based on the instrument design co-developed for the original OCO mission by Hamilton Sundstrand in Pomona, California. NASA's Launch Services Program at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for launch management. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Robert PearlmanNASA mission update
OCO-2 'Go' for Tuesday Launch

At the conclusion of a Launch Readiness Review Sunday (June 29), managers gave a "go" to proceed toward the launch of NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket at 4:56 a.m. CDT (0956 GMT) Tuesday, July 1, from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. There are no issues or concerns with either OCO-2 or the Delta II.

There is a zero percent chance of a weather criteria violation. At the time of launch the temperature will be near 52 degrees, the wind from the northwest at 5-8 knots, and 1-2 miles visibility with fog.

The gantry, or mobile service tower, is scheduled to be pulled back from around the Delta II rocket on Monday at 6:10 p.m. CDT (2310 GMT). Earlier in the afternoon the RP-1 fuel, a highly refined kerosene, will be loaded aboard the first stage.

On Tuesday, cryogenic liquid oxygen loading is scheduled to start at 3:11 a.m. CDT followed by liftoff at the opening of the 30-second launch at 4:56 a.m. CDT.

Launch attempts are scheduled with the Western Range on Tuesday, July 1 and Wednesday, July 2. Thursday, July 3 is also available if needed.

Robert Pearlman
Launch pad system anomaly scrubs launch attempt

Tuesday's (July 1) attempt at launching Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) was scrubbed because of a failure in a Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 2 pad water system. The system provides sound suppression to dampen acoustic waves at liftoff and protects a launch pad flame duct.

The countdown was halted at T-46 seconds. Both the spacecraft and rocket are in a safe configuration.

Pending the outcome of troubleshooting, the launch is rescheduled for Wednesday (July 2) at 4:56 a.m. CDT (0956 GMT) at the opening of a 30-second window.

Robert Pearlman
Launch of NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 Rescheduled for July 2

The launch of Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket is scheduled for Wednesday (July 2) at 4:56 a.m. CDT (0956 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The launch team has completed troubleshooting of the launch pad water suppression system that resulted in the scrub of the launch attempt Tuesday. A valve that is part of the pulse suppression water system, which had operated properly during tests shortly before the launch countdown, failed to function properly during the final minutes of the launch attempt. The failed valve has been replaced with a spare, and the system is being tested in preparation for Wednesday's launch attempt.

The OCO-2 mission will produce the most detailed picture to date of natural sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their "sinks" — places on Earth's surface where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. The observatory will study how these sources and sinks are distributed around the globe and how they change over time.

The launch weather forecast is unchanged with a 100 percent chance of favorable conditions at liftoff, which is targeted for 4:56:23 CDT at the opening of a 30-second launch window.

Robert PearlmanUnited Launch Alliance release
United Launch Alliance Successfully Launches 51st Delta II Mission for NASA

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II rocket carrying the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) payload for NASA lifted off from Space Launch Complex-2 at 4:56 a.m. CDT (0956 GMT) today (July 2). This launch marks the 51st Delta II mission for NASA and Delta II's return to flight as the first of two planned Delta II launches this year, and also the seventh ULA launch of 2014 and the 84th since the company was formed.

"Congratulations to the NASA Launch Services Program team, JPL and all of our mission partners on the successful launch of the OCO-2 satellite," said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. "It is our honor to launch this important mission that will gather the scientific data to better understand planet earth."

OCO-2 was launched on a Delta II 7320 vehicle featuring a ULA first stage booster powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-27A engine and three Alliant Techsystems (ATK) strap-on solid rocket motors. An Aerojet Rockedyne AJ10-118K engine powered the second stage. The payload was encased by a 10-foot-diameter composite payload fairing.

"In addition to OCO-2, NASA has selected ULA to launch three more Delta II rockets in the coming years. The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base later this year," said Sponnick. "We look forward to working with NASA on the upcoming Delta II missions and other future launch campaigns."

Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 will be NASA's first dedicated Earth remote sensing satellite to study atmospheric carbon dioxide from space. OCO-2 will be collecting space-based global measurements of atmospheric CO2 with the precision, resolution, and coverage needed to characterize sources and sinks on regional scales. OCO-2 will also be able to quantify CO2 variability over the seasonal cycles year after year.

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