Launch Of NASA’s Climate Satellite Delayed

By Joelle Renstrom | Updated

NASA-OCO2-satellite-carbon-tracking-460x250While debating climate change with a denier can be like delving into a circular debate about religion or abortion, scientists will continue to amass evidence that yes, humans are drastically altering the Earth’s ecosystem in frightening ways. This is part of the reason that NASA has developed the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2), which measures carbon dioxide emissions from space. The satellite is the agency’s first dedicated to studying atmospheric C02, providing scientists with global measurements of CO2 levels and cycles. It’s a great idea, although its launch, which was scheduled for 2:56 AM today, was delayed due to equipment failure.

With only 46 seconds left in the countdown, NASA scrubbed the launch due to a “failure in the launch pad water flow” and is now conducting troubleshooting measures. The launch time may seem a bit strange, but the launch of this satellite has a scant 30-second window in order to line it up with other Earth-observing satellites. The launch has been tentatively rescheduled for Wednesday at the same time.

OCO2 will examine the wavelengths of sunlight, focusing specifically on those that carbon dioxide absorbs. As the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises, largely due to greenhouse gases, scientists need a reliable means of studying the carbon cycle, particularly when it comes to sources of CO2, its absorption into the land and ocean, and its existence in the atmosphere. OCO2 measures CO2 by measuring the intensity of the sunlight reflected by a CO2 in the air, which generates something akin to a CO2 fingerprint. A diffraction grating will help it divide sunlight into spectrum colors and then into wavelength bands representing weak CO2, strong CO2, and oxygen, and measuring sunlight at the same place over time will give CO2 data about fluctuations in the levels of these gases. The satellite is capable to generating 1 million measurements per day.

Hopefully the launch goes off without a hitch tomorrow. The sooner we can get OCO2 into orbit, the sooner we can get the most detailed carbon cycle information available. And even if the results are depressing, which they almost certainly will be, we’ll be in a better position to do something about it. I hope.