In this artist rendering released by JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency),
greenhouse-gas monitoring satellite “Ibuki” is in orbit.

CO2-Measuring Satellite Fails to Reach Orbit, Crashes Back to Earth

February 24, 2009 01:26 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory plunged into the Pacific Ocean minutes after takeoff Tuesday, dooming the agency’s first mission to measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Mission Ends in Failure

The $278 million, 986-pound satellite failed to separate from a covering on its Taurus booster, three minutes after its launch at 4:55 a.m. EST from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The extra weight from the cover made the satellite unable to reach orbit, and caused it to descend to Earth, where it eventually landed in the Pacific Ocean near Antarctica, according to NASA.

“For the science community it’s a huge disappointment,” NASA launch director Chuck Dovale said, according to Reuters.

The failure is especially disappointing to the scientists and engineers who have worked on OCO for almost a decade, said Paul Palmer, a climate scientist at the University of Edinburgh, UK, who is part of the OCO science team, to Nature.

“These guys have sweated OCO for seven or eight years,” he says.

Background: New satellites to gather environmental data

NASA had planned to use the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, known as OCO, to measure and identify greenhouse gases and aid scientists in creating maps of its distribution throughout the world.

“It’s critical that we understand the processes controlling carbon dioxide in our atmosphere today so we can predict how fast it will build up in the future and how quickly we’ll have to adapt to climate change,” said David Crisp, principal investigator for the OCO, according to the Guardian.

Scientists were also hoping that the mission would help solve the mysterious question of why only about 40 percent of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere stays there, while the rest of it is absorbed by oceans.

In January, Japan also launched a new satellite to gather data on gases in the atmosphere.

The Greenhouse-Gases Observing Satellite, or Gosat, took off from Tanegashima Space Center to measure the density of carbon dioxide and methane gas emissions in the Earth’s southern hemisphere.

“There’s a scarcity of data about carbon dioxide and methane gas emissions in jungles in the southern hemisphere and areas above the ocean,” said Hiroshi Watanabe, Gosat project office manager at Japan’s National Institute for Environment Studies, to Bloomberg.

Gosat is also called “Ibuki,” the Japanese word for “breath,” because of its efforts to observe the Earth’s “breathing” in space. The nearly two-ton satellite cost $205 million to develop and has a wingspan of about 45 feet, and will monitor 56,000 locations on Earth from an altitude of more than 400 miles.

It was expected to be the first of four satellites that will be launched this year to study climate change, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory and Glory satellites, and the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite.

Carbon and methane are two of six gases regulated by the Kyoto Protocol, and are thought to be largely responsible for the greenhouse effect.

Reference: Greenhouse gases

Greenhouse gases are chemical compounds found in the Earth’s atmosphere that allow sunlight through the Earth’s surface and then reradiate them back into space in the form of heat. Some of the gases that act in this manner include natural gases such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, and human-produced industrial gases.

Related Topics: Climate change in the news


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