Six weeks or so from now, OCO-2 will maneuver into a polar orbit 438 miles (705 kilometers) above Earth, joining five other Earth-observation satellites in the A-Train constellation. ("A" is short for "afternoon, " since these spacecraft cross the equator going north at about 1:30 p.m. local time every day.)
The new satellite will then begin using its single scientific instrument, a grading spectrometer, to measure carbon dioxide levels with an anticipated precision of 1 part per million, NASA officials have said. The spacecraft will zoom over the same swathe of Earth once every 16 days, allowing researchers to track changes in CO2 concentration over a variety of timescales.
The Delta 2 rocket carrying NASA's OCO-2 spacecraft stands on the launch pad on July 2, 2014.Credit: NASA TV
"Ultimately, scientists predict that looking at these changes over time will give us patterns that are weeks or months or years long [and] that will help them to unravel the mysteries of the carbon cycle, " Edwards said.
The $465-million mission has a nominal lifetime of two years, but the spacecraft has enough fuel to keep operating for much longer than that, OCO-2 team members have said.
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Wallmonkeys WM138342 Earth Taken from the Viirs Instrument aboard Nasa's Most Recently Launched Earth-observing Satellite Peel and Stick Wall Decals (36 in H x 36 in W)