OCO-2 Has a Successful Launch!!
On Wednesday July 2nd, at 3:56 AM MDT, NASA successfully launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2). Although the conditions were quite foggy, and not much could be seen from the ground, the rocket safely thrust the satellite into orbit and all involved with the mission rejoiced. This satellite, the primary component of the ground-breaking OCO-2 mission, is dedicated to measuring carbon dioxide from space with unprecedented accuracy. The OCO Mission itself has been in development for over a decade, as the original instrument, OCO-1, failed to make orbit in 2009. As a result, the much anticipated second satellite launch was on a Delta-2 rocket (built by Colorado-based United Launch Alliance), the same launch vehicle used by the CloudSat/CALIPSO satellites. In orbit, OCO-2 is at the head of the afternoon constellation of earth-observing satellites called the A-Train which prior to launch, included 5 satellites that fly in close proximity to each other. These satellites are GCOM-W1, Aqua, CALIPSO, CloudSat, and Aura. The combination of data sets from all 5 (and now 6), and their nearly simultaneous observations, aid scientists in their quest to understand the factors involved with climate change. Adding OCO-2 to the A-Train, now gives scientists unprecedented carbon information that will not only add to their current data, but provide new perspectives to their research work.
CSU has been heavily involved in the OCO mission in a number of ways. At the very beginning, part of the original measurement concept of the mission was conceived by Emeritus Professor Graeme Stephens and retired Senior Research Scientist Denis O'Brien. These two scientists wanted to obtain new measurements of clouds and aerosols by measuring fine details in the spectrum of reflected sunlight in the near-infrared. After such an instrument was built to do so, but then cut from the CloudSat mission (it was to complement the W-band radar on CloudSat), it was re-envisioned as a way to measure CO2 concentrations from space, with the aim of better characterizing land-based sources and sinks of carbon on regional scales. Currently, this measurement is done only crudely, via sparse measurements of ground-based CO2 concentrations. OCO-2 should provide a major step forward in our ability to measure sources and sinks of carbon dioxide, and to solve some long-standing riddles of the earth's carbon cycle.
Assistant Professor Christopher O'Dell and his team at CSU, including student Robert Nelson, Research Associate Tommy Taylor and Postdoc. Hannakaisa Lindqvist, have helped lead the development of the algorithms that will convert the sunlight measurements into CO2 concentrations. They have also been pioneering ways to better exploit these measurements. Since the failure of OCO-1, the team has been primarily working with measurements from the Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite (GOSAT), a Japanese mission, though these measurements are much sparser and noisier than those expected by OCO-2. In addition to the O'Dell team, CIRA researchers David Baker, Tomohiro Oda, and Andrew Schuh, and ATS Professor Scott Denning, plan to use the CO2 measurements in global inversion models to actually infer sources and sinks of carbon, and to look for emission signatures from large anthropogenic sources such as megacities and power plants.
Finally, in addition to teaching us about the carbon cycle and potentially about clouds and aerosols, OCO-2 has another trick up its sleeve. Though just recently discovered, scientists expect OCO-2 to be able to measure the faint glow emitted by plants as they perform photosynthesis. This is a direct measurement of the surface (rather than atmosphere), which can potentially tell us a number of important things about the biosphere, such as drought monitoring and crop yields. This faint glow is called solar-induced chlorophyll fluorescence, and will be utilized by Professor Denning's research group to better characterize the earth's biosphere.
NASA live streamed the launch on Wednesday and further information regarding the mission can be found at http://oco.jpl.nasa.gov. In addition to this, several media outlets covered the OCO-2 launch with press releases, including Colorado Public Radio. Their press release and a brief replay of the launch can be seen at http://www.cpr.org/node/114294.