A newly launched satellite will reveal even more about the planet’s workings than originally planned

via BBC

Monitoring Earth: Gaia’s breath

THE ten-and-a-half minutes it took a Delta 2 rocket to lift OCO-2 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to a parking orbit 190km above Earth on July 2nd would have been too long for most people (even Tibetans—see article) to hold their breath. But you could not have blamed the team of scientists and engineers that built the satellite for wanting to. Five years ago they watched as the original OCO—the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, designed to map the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide around the world and its change over time—lifted off from the same place, only to end up sunk in the sea off Antarctica after the rocket carrying it failed.

Thanks to money made available by America’s fiscal stimulus, OCO is a rare example of a lost mission that got a second chance. A near-identical version—a carbon copy, you might say—was rushed into production. After a second atmospheric-research satellite was lost because of another problem with the make of rocket that had served OCO so poorly, though, the replacement had to wait for a few years while a more reliable alternative was procured.

That delay produced not just a safer launch, but also a better satellite. In 2013 the devices (called reaction wheels) used to point Kepler, a space telescope, at its target stars started to fail—devices on which OCO-2, too, would rely. They have been modified. And OCO-2 has also become even more scientifically promising in the interim—not because of better instruments, but because of a new appreciation of what the old instruments can do.

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The Latest on: OCO-2

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