Despite budgetary disruptions, NASA’s plans to study atmospheric carbon dioxide are still set to go ahead with the launch of their Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) next year. The OCO-3 was developed from an existing satellite instrument, albeit altered and repurposed to study carbon in the atmosphere while attached to the International Space Station.
This satellite launch is the first step in NASA’s greater plan to fully study carbon peaks and dips in the atmosphere. It is a small part of their Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory, or GeoCarb, project. The goal is to have the mission completely underway by 2022.
NASA scientists are working through these budgetary disruptions, still with the goal of having the OCO-3 ready by the spring. It is then scheduled to be placed in to planned storage, awaiting further testing and its eventual launch on one of SpaceX’s Dragon capsules. These are essentially uncrewed cargo ships, transporting goods, technology, and equipment between Earth and the International Space Station.
The OCO-3 was conceived and developed at a relatively low cost, using leftover pieces from other missions. Most of its parts came from its prior generation, the OCO-2, which was launched in 2014. The OCO-2 is a free-flying satellite that observes the same spots on Earth at about the same time each day. Conversely, the OCO-3 is intended to monitor changes and fluctuations from multiple spots throughout the day, thanks to its positioning on the International Space Station in low orbit.
NASA hopes GeoCarb can give them a lot of useful information about atmospheric greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and carbon monoxide. They want to collect data throughout the day, hoping to identify patterns and to determine the impact of those emissions.
Other organizations are also studying atmospheric greenhouse gases, including the European Space Agency, China’s space agency, and Japan’s space program. France also plans to launch a monitoring satellite in 2020. NASA scientists hope to work with the other organizations, combining data and collaborating on solutions.