Space

June 13, 2014

New NASA space observatory to study carbon conundrums

NASA’s first spacecraft dedicated to measuring carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere is in final preparations for a July 1 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 mission will provide a more complete, global picture of the human and natural sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their “sinks,” the natural ocean and land processes by which carbon dioxide is pulled out of Earth’s atmosphere and stored. Carbon dioxide, a critical component of Earth’s carbon cycle, is the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth’s climate.

“Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere plays a critical role in our planet’s energy balance and is a key factor in understanding how our climate is changing,” said Michael Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division in Washington. “With the OCO-2 mission, NASA will be contributing an important new source of global observations to the scientific challenge of better understanding our Earth and its future.”

OCO-2 will launch on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket and maneuver into a 438-mile 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.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines April 24, 2015

News: More than $1 billion in U.S. emergency reconstruction aid goes missing in Afghanistan - A total of $1.3 billion that the Pentagon shipped to its force commanders in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2014 for the most critical reconstruction projects can’t be accounted for by the Defense Department, 60 percent of all such spending under an...
 
 

News Briefs April 24, 2015

German defense minister: widely used rifle has no future A widely used assault rifle has “no future” with the German military in its current form, Germany’s defense minister said April 22, escalating a dispute over the weapon’s alleged shortcomings. Ursula von der Leyen said last month that a study showed the G36 rifle has a...
 
 
Army photograph

Composites key to tougher, lighter armaments

Army photograph XM-360 test firing at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., in 2007, is shown. The Army is on the cusp of revolutionizing materials that go into armament construction, making for stronger, lighter and more durable weapo...
 

 

Northrop Grumman signs long-term agreement with Raytheon

Northrop Grumman has entered a long-term agreement with Raytheon to supply its LN-200 Inertial Measurement Unit for Raytheon optical targeting systems. The long-term agreement with Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems business extends through 2018. The LN-200 provides camera stabilization on optical targeting systems that conduct long-range surveillance and target acquisition for various...
 
 

NTTR supports first F-35B integration into USMC’s weapons school exercise

The Nevada Test and Training Range was part of history April 21, when four U.S. Marine Corps-assigned F-35B Lightning IIs participated in its first Marine Corps’ Final Exercise of the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course on the NTTR’s ranges. The Final Exercise, or FINEX, is the capstone event to the U.S. Marine Corps Marine Aviation...
 
 
AAR-Textron

AAR awarded new contract from Bell Helicopter Textron to support T64 engines

AAR announced April 22 that Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. awarded its Defense Systems & Logistics business unit a contract providing warehouse and logistics services in support of upgrading T64 engines for the Bell V-280 Val...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>