Monday, August 11, 2014

NASA OCO-2: Carbon Counter Reaches Final Orbit, Returns Data

NASA's OCO-2 spacecraft collected "first light” data Aug. 6 over New Guinea. OCO-2’s spectrometers recorded the bar code-like spectra, or chemical signatures, of molecular oxygen or carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 

The backdrop is a simulation of carbon dioxide created from GEOS-5 model data.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/NASA GSFC

Just over a month after launch, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2), NASA’s first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide, has maneuvered into its final operating orbit and produced its first science data, confirming the health of its science instrument.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide is the leading human-produced greenhouse gas responsible for warming our world. It is a critical natural component of Earth’s carbon cycle.

OCO-2 will produce the most detailed picture to date of sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their natural “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.

Artist's rendering of NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2, one of five new NASA Earth science missions set to launch in 2014, and one of three managed by JPL.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Following launch from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base on July 2, OCO-2 underwent a series of steps to configure the observatory for in-flight operations.

Mission controllers established two-way communications with the observatory, stabilized its orientation in space and deployed its solar arrays to provide electrical power.

The OCO-2 team then performed a checkout of OCO-2’s systems to ensure they were functioning properly.

Through the month of July, a series of propulsive burns was executed to maneuver the observatory into its final 438-mile (705-kilometer), near-polar orbit at the head of the international Afternoon Constellation, or “A-Train,” of Earth-observing satellites.

It arrived there on Aug. 3. Operations are now being conducted with the observatory in an orbit that crosses the equator at 1:36 p.m. local time.

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