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Home / Science / SpaceX has just launched a critical NASA climate instrument into space

SpaceX has just launched a critical NASA climate instrument into space



Image: Uncredited / AP / Shutterstock

NASA's detection of carbon has left Earth.

SpaceX launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) to the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday morning at 2:48 am ET aboard the company's reliable Falcon 9 rocket. After NASA's cargo arrives at the ISS, astronauts will mount the refrigerator-sized device with a long robotic arm on the side of the Earth-moving station.

OCO-3 will look at the Earth and keep an eye on the planet's carbon emissions, which have reached their highest levels in millions of years.

"Carbon dioxide is the most important gas that humans release into the atmosphere," said Annmarie Eldering, project scientist for OCO-3 at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Mashable in February. "Understanding what it will look like in the future is critical."

After the SpaceX rocket had risen into space, the booster – the lowest part of the rocket with nine powerful engines – returned to Earth. successfully landed on a drone ship in the Atlantic.

SpaceX now regularly lands its missiles both on drone ships and on land. It is a fundamental part of the space company's business model – reusing expensive rockets rather than letting them crash into the ocean. At the beginning of this month, SpaceX impressively landed three boosters after its massive Falcon Heavy rocket (consisting of three belted rockets) launched an Arab communications satellite into Earth's Earth orbit.

NASA had planned to launch at the end of April, but asked SpaceX for a delay until the Space Agency resolved a power distribution problem on the ISS that currently has six astronauts and cosmonauts.

OCO-3 – which can detect carbon dioxide concentrations on Earth in the range of 1 part per million – has hardly made it into space. In 2017 and 2018, the Trump government (protesting openly against climate science) tried to eliminate Earth observation instruments.

"We've heard that OCO-3 will not go," said Britton Stephens, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research working on the OCO-3 science team, in an interview. "The project has had many ups and downs."

But the advocacy of NASA leaders and Congressional support kept OCO-3 alive. Now it is in space.

  The idea of ​​an artist from OCO-3, looking from the space station to the earth.

The idea of ​​an artist from OCO-3, looking from the space station to the earth.

Image: nasa / JPL / Caltech [19659017] OCO-3 will follow in the footsteps of OCO-2 by emitting the places on Earth (cities and countries) that emit carbon dioxide, and the areas where CO2 emanates the atmosphere is sucked or absorbed (oceans and forests), continue to be closely monitored). The growing measurement protocol makes OCO-3 particularly valuable for scientists who need long-term data to follow trends and discover novel data.

"The longer the data sets grow, the more important they become," says Pontus Olofsson research professor at Boston University, who uses satellites to research the Earth's carbon cycle. "It's like an exponential increase in meaning."

These measurements are all the more outstanding today as modern civilization seeks to reduce their heat-trapping carbon emissions and curb the planet's accelerating warming trend. From 2019, the prospect of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above the level of the 19th century – which would avoid the worst effects of climate change – looks grim.

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