NASA’s long-awaited carbon dioxide detector, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), crashed into the ocean near Antarctica today following a launch failure.
The $280 million mission would have provided much needed information on the origin and fate of carbon dioxide emissions. The instruments aboard the satellite were designed to measure carbon dioxide at a precision higher than any current space-based measurements of a trace gas, and would have helped scientists to identify sources and sinks of the greenhouse gas. Although the project was intended as a science mission, its results would also have been relevant to policymakers.
The loss of OCO marks a huge setback for the climate science community, and especially for the scientists who have worked so hard to get the satellite off the ground. Geoff Brumfiel reports over on Nature News (subscription):
It’s a major setback," says Paul Palmer, a climate scientist at the University of Edinburgh, UK, who is part of the OCO science team. It will be particularly devastating for the tight-knit group of scientists and engineers who have devoted much of the past decade to the project. “These guys have sweated OCO for seven or eight years,” he says.
The data from OCO would also have complemented those being collected by another satellite launched in January. The Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT), a project of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, will now have to verify its measurements of methane, water vapour and carbon dioxide against those taken from ground-based stations.