Developers of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) satellite have revamped their management team and manufacturing approach over the last six months in hopes of holding the program to a $39

million cost overrun and a

three-month schedule delay.

Managers will learn how well they are

doing after Aug.

8, when the OCO carbon-measuring instrument is installed inside a space simulation chamber at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). At that time NASA engineers will


the instrument and run it through its first series of tests.

When it is launched in December 2008, the OCO satellite will take radiation measurements at three wavelengths to mathematically deduce levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. OCO’s goal is to identify regions of Earth that are net absorbers of atmospheric carbon dioxide, called sinks, to see if “we can exploit any of those sinks as a way of basically reversing the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide,” said Dave Crisp, the principle investigator for the OCO mission at

JPL in Pasadena, Calif.

Most scientists agree that a build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is warming the planet, but they disagree about exactly how warm Earth will get and what the consequences of the warming will be on global sea level, weather and deserts.

Last year, NASA and contractor engineers ran into technical problems in construction and assembly of the OCO instrument and its supporting optical bench, both of which are manufactured by United Technologies Hamilton Sundstrand Sensor Systems in Pomona, Calif.

Crisp said “the big chunk of aluminum” that forms

the optical bench was not

designed properly and “needed some extra reinforcement” to survive launch.

In addition, Hamilton Sundstrand engineers ran into a host of technical problems and vendor delays in construction of the instrument. “These were not high-technology issues. These were issues associated with manufacturing parts to really great precision,” Crisp said.

In December, JPL managers began taking steps to revamp the OCO project. Tom Livermore, the former project manager of JPL’s CloudSat mission, was named to take over management of OCO from Rod Zieger, who now heads JPL’s project support office.

The change should not be seen as a statement on Zieger’s job performance, Crisp said. “It’s possible that Rod was doing everything technically possible but was presented with an absolutely impossible situation,” Crisp said. “What JPL wanted to do was prove to the world and itself that they had their best person on the job,” he added.

said NASA managers saw the problems mounting on OCO and held numerous internal reviews to address them. “Everyone acknowledged we did everything that could be done to keep the project on track. Unfortunately, we used up most of the [OCO funding] reserves for the instrument,” Zieger said

With Livermore in place, the OCO team approached science managers at NASA headquarters with a plan to retain all of OCO’s instrumentation and science objectives by moving assembly of the instrument to JPL in Pasadena from Hamilton Sundstrand’s Pomona facility.

“We were able to integrate the system faster here at JPL, and make up some of the time that was lost in the development process,” Crisp said. “What we found we could do is divide the effort into component pieces and actually set up several parallel laboratories where different parts of the instrument are being developed at the same time,” he said.

The Hamilton Sundstrand facility was too small to do that, a Hamilton Sundstrand official confirmed.

In late April,

Mary Cleave, then associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, signed off on a revamped plan to launch OCO in December 2008, instead of September, at a total cost of $270 million compared to the 2005 estimate of $231 million.

“The technical/programmatic status of OCO has stabilized,”

NASA spokeswoman Tabatha Thompson said in a July 5 prepared statement.

During the August tests, the instrument’s focus will be adjusted by a temporary, motorized focusing mechanism. NASA and contractor engineers then will disassemble the instrument and reassemble it into its final configuration, which will not include the focusing mechanism. Next, they

will run it through a series of flight qualification tests.

Those tests are scheduled to run from December through February 2008. If all goes as planned, JPL will deliver the instrument to Orbital Science Corp. of Dulles, Va., by

March 15 for installation on the OCO spacecraft frame. OCO is scheduled for launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on an Orbital

Sciences Taurus XL rocket


15, 2008.

“It’ll be the first time we’ve flown the XL with small fairing, but it’s not a big deal,” Crisp said.