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Terra · Aqua · Aura
Orbiting Carbon Observatory
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The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) will be sent in 2008 to the same low polar orbit as Aqua and the others in the A-Train, 438 miles above Earth.
A project of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and part of the space agency's Earth System Science Pathfinder (ESSP) program, OCO will ride to orbit aboard one of Orbital Sciences Corporation's Taurus rockets. Orbital is building the spacecraft for JPL.
When it's launched in 2008, OCO will be placed 15 minutes ahead of Aqua in the A-Train from where it will measure the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere.
In fact, OCO will record the first measurements from space of that important greenhouse gas.
The burning of fossil fuel and other human activities have nearly doubled the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the 18th century.
In the atmosphere, carbon dioxide is efficient as a greenhouse gas because it absorbs and traps infrared radiation (heat) from the Earth's surface, preventing it from escaping to space.
The measurements by OCO will help scientists understand how increasing CO2 concentrations will drive climate change around the globe.
Although the oceans and, in fact, the entire biosphere absorb half of the CO2 generated by human activities, the wide distribution of its sources, as well as the so-called sinks of carbon dioxide, are not understood clearly. OCO should improve our understanding of the global carbon cycle.
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