As part of the Earth System Science Pathfinder small-
satellite program, NASA has selected two new space mission
proposals that will yield fresh insight into our home
planet’s carbon cycle and how oceans affect and respond to
climate change — knowledge that will help better life here
on Earth.

Partnering with NASA centers, universities, industry and
international participants, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory
(OCO) and the Aquarius missions will enhance NASA’s mission:
to better understand and protect our home planet.

“The Orbiting Carbon Observatory will provide global
measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide needed to describe
the geographic distribution and variability of carbon dioxide
sources and sinks,” said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Associate
Administrator for Earth Science, NASA Headquarters,

“Aquarius will provide the first-ever global maps of salt
concentration on the ocean surface, a key area of scientific
uncertainty in the oceans’ capacity to store and transport
heat, which in turn affects Earth’s climate and the water
cycle,” Asrar said.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory, a mission that partners with
industry and academia, will generate knowledge needed to
improve projections of future carbon dioxide levels within
Earth’s atmosphere. Increasing carbon dioxide (CO2)
concentrations have raised concerns about global warming.
Even though the biosphere and oceans are currently absorbing
about half of the CO2 generated by human activities, the
nature and geographic distribution of these CO2 sinks are too
poorly understood to predict their response to future climate
and land-use changes.

Dr. David Crisp of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, Calif., will be the principal investigator for the
mission. The OCO mission will include more than 19
universities and corporate and international partners.

Aquarius will provide global maps of ocean-salt concentration
on a monthly basis over its planned three-year mission life.
By gaining these global, monthly maps researchers can better
understand the nature of Earth’s oceans and their role in
storage and distribution of heat and thus their role in
global climate change.

Aquarius will measure variations in salinity to determine how
the ocean responds to the combined effects of evaporation and
precipitation, ice melt and river runoff on seasonal and
interannual time scales. This is critical information to
understand how salinity variations modify ocean circulation
and the global redistribution of heat.

Dr. Chet Koblinsky of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center,
Greenbelt, Md., will serve as principal investigator for the
Aquarius mission. Aquarius also will partner with the
Argentine Space Program, building on a successful long-
standing relationship between NASA and Argentina. In all,
over 17 universities and corporate and international partners
will be involved in the Aquarius mission.

In addition to the two selected new missions, a third
proposal, called HYDROS, has been selected to serve as an
alternate to the selected missions, should the primary
missions encounter difficulties during the initial
development phases. The HYDROS mission concept calls for a
spacecraft that would monitor soil moisture from space — a
measurement that would improve current models for weather and
climate predictions.

NASA will fund up to $175 million for each of the two
selected missions. The selected missions will have
approximately nine months to refine their proposals to
mitigate risk before mission development is fully underway.

NASA issued an Announcement of Opportunity and initially
received 18 proposals, six of which were selected for
detailed assessment, with two now moving on toward final

NASA conducts Earth science research to better understand and
protect our home planet. Through the examination of Earth, we
are developing the technologies and scientific knowledge
needed to explore the universe while bettering life on our
home planet.