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NASA scraps launch of Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2

  • Article by: Kenneth Chang
  • New York Times
  • July 1, 2014 - 5:10 PM

The launch of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 spacecraft was called off Tuesday with 46 seconds left in the countdown when equipment on the launchpad malfunctioned.

The spacecraft, on top of a Delta 2 rocket, was scheduled to lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The problem occurred in a system that sprays water beneath the engines during liftoff to dampen the roar and protect the launchpad.

NASA may make another attempt Wednesday.

When the spacecraft gets off the ground, mission controllers will spend six to seven weeks testing it while nudging it into orbit 438 miles up.

From that vantage, it is to make a million measurements a day of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere.

These repeated measurements will allow scientists to observe the rise and fall of carbon dioxide with the seasons. They may also help determine how the balance changes with droughts or floods.

That should give scientists a better idea of whether the oceans and land plants will continue to absorb half of the carbon dioxide emissions, as in the past, or whether any of these carbon sinks are close to overflowing, leaving even more gas to linger in the air.

The $467.5 million mission is planned to last two years.

On an average day, some 100 million tons of carbon dioxide wafts into the air. The gas traps heat in the atmosphere, resulting in gradual warming.

Only half of the carbon dioxide stays up there; the other half falls back to earth. While scientists know what happens to half of that half — it dissolves into the oceans — the rest is a puzzle.

“Somewhere on Earth, on land, one-quarter of all our carbon emissions released through fossil fuel emissions is disappearing,” said David Crisp, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Wouldn’t it be nice to know where?”

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