More than a carbon copy: OCO-3 on the space station | 10/13/2017 | Staff
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NASA is ready to launch a new space instrument that will use the vantage point of the International Space Station to monitor Earth's carbon cycle. A follow-on to the still-active OCO-2 mission, OCO-3 will bring not only a new vantage point but new techniques and new technologies to NASA's carbon dioxide observations. Why are we launching a new carbon observatory? Read on.

Why carbon dioxide?

Carbon - Dioxide - CO2 - Air - Plants

Carbon dioxide (CO2) naturally cycles into and out of the air from plants and animals, the ocean, and land, with the cycle staying in balance over the long term. CO2 added into the atmosphere by human activities over the last 250 years has increased the amount of the gas that stays in the atmosphere. This extra gas traps heat through the greenhouse effect, resulting in a warming of the climate. NASA and other scientific institutions keep a close eye on this and other atmospheric changes and the ways Earth is responding to them, continually seeking to improve our observations. OCO-3 is the latest addition to the global space-based fleet observing this critical greenhouse gas. OCO-3 was built by adapting a duplicate version of OCO-2, originally built as a "flight spare—an exact copy that a mission builds in case there's a problem with the original instrument. Thus OCO-3 will extend and enhance a data set that has already proven its value.

Why the space station?

Space - Station - Circles - Earth - Degrees

The space station circles Earth between 52 degrees north to 52 degrees south latitudes—about the latitudes of London and Patagonia. The vast majority of Earth's cities and agricultural lands, responsible for most of our planet's carbon absorption and emissions, fall within this zone. Where OCO-2's polar orbit takes it over each location at exactly the same time of day, the space station's orbit will put OCO-3 over each location at a slightly different time on...
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