OCO Hits Orbit

OCO-2 Liftoff

Say hello to OCO.

OCO-2, that is, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2, is expected to provide insight into how the planet adjusts to the increased production of carbon dioxide from a vantage point in orbit that will allow it to take readings on a scale never achieved before.

Technicians and engineers work with the OCO-2 spacecraft during processing inside a facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  (NASA/USAF 30th Space Wing)While ground stations have been monitoring carbon dioxide concentrations, OCO-2 will be the first spacecraft to conduct a global-scale reading over several seasons. The spacecraft is expected to produce detailed readings to provide regional sources of carbon dioxide as well as sinks for the greenhouse gas.

“There’s quite a lot of urgency to see what we can get from a satellite like OCO-2,” said David Crisp, the science team lead for the mission.

The spacecraft flew into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The July 2 liftoff came at 5:56 a.m. Eastern time, 2:56 Pacific time. The hexagonal spacecraft is about 6 feet long and 3 feet in diameter and weighs 985 pounds. The Delta II first stage’s single liquid-fueled engine ignited moments before the three solid-fueled boosters roared to life to catapult the rocket and spacecraft off the pad toward space.

OCO-2 is deployed for a two-year, groundbreaking mission that represents NASA both at its best and not-so-best. Working from an altitude of 438 miles above the Earth, the satellite will attempt to gather a complete profile of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Launch manager Tim Dunn explained that OCO-2 lifted off from Vandenberg because it was the only suitable American site for launch to polar orbit. Furthermore, OCO-2 is a second try; its precedental predecessor failed achieve orbit in 2009. And the satellite was designed for the Delta II, last flown in 2011. “The biggest challenge,” explained Dunn, “has been in bringing the Delta II launch vehicle out of retirement.”

Let this be a reminder, and indeed I keep thinking of an advert campaign: NASA: There is no other.

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