NASA’s OCO-2 Satellite Reaches Operational Orbit

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WASHINGTON — A NASA satellite launched in early July to track carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has reached its operational orbit of 705 kilometers, according to an Aug. 12 press release from Orbital Sciences Corp., the Dulles, Virginia-based builder of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2.

OCO-2 was launched July 2 aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The observatory, a copy of one destroyed in a 2009 launch failure, was injected into a near-polar orbit some 688 kilometers up and has since been climbing into its intended position at the head of an international ad-hoc constellation of Earth-observing spacecraft known as the A-Train.

From its final, near-polar, sun-synchronous orbit, OCO-2 will map sources of carbon dioxide emissions, as well as the locations of so-called carbon sinks where reservoirs of the greenhouse gas form. Including spacecraft design, launch and its two-year primary mission, OCO-2 is costing NASA $467.7 million, according to the press kit the agency distributed on launch day.

OCO-2’s only instrument, which comprises three spectrometers, has been switched on and is functioning normally, according to Orbital’s press release. The official start of OCO-2’s mission is slated for Aug. 16.

The first OCO satellite was destroyed when the fairing on its Taurus XL rocket, an Orbital vehicle, failed to separate properly from the upper stage of the launcher. Launch of the replacement OCO satellite was given to ULA in 2011 after a second Taurus XL launch failure that was also linked to a fairing failure.