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NASA To Install OCO-3 CO2 Monitoring Observatory On International Space Station

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The OCO-3 Monitoring Observatory will launch no later than April 25. It will be mounted on the International Space Station for three years.  ( JPL NASA )

Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 will soon launch on the International Space Station this year. This is for scientists to accurately measure the carbon cycle on Earth.

The OCO-3 mission is the continuation of the OCO-2 mission which began in 2014. The OCO-3 is a much more improved measurement system as it is mounted on the International Space Station, which circles Earth from 52 degrees north to 52 degrees south latitudes. It's completely unlike the OCO-2 where it is only in the polar orbit.

Mission's Purpose

The main purpose of the OCO-3 is to accurately measure the altering carbon cycle on Earth, and how it will affect all its living inhabitants. All living organisms are part of the carbon cycle, and recently, the cycle is more off-balance because of human activities such as burning fossil fuel and deforestation.

OCO-3 measurements can reduce the uncertainty of the natural fluxes of the global carbon budget, mainly due to anthropogenic emissions. The instrument can make nearly precise measurements at different times of the day due to its position in space.

Scientists also aim to know how carbon dioxide concentrations change throughout the day in various areas of the Earth. The OCO-2 can't accurately measure this as it is a polar-orbiting satellite always goes over any given location at the same time of day. With OCO-3, it can span all sunlit hours in about a month.

Solar-Induced Fluorescence

Aside from measuring atmospheric carbon, the OCO-3's high-resolution spectrometers can also detect solar-induced fluorescence, a type of radiation emitted by plants. Plants only produce SIF during photosynthesis season, which is also the only time they absorb carbon dioxide.

Scientists still don't have an accurate measurement of when photosynthesis is occurring, as it varies in different parts of the globe. They especially want to observe SIF in inaccessible locations, such as the Arctic.

With OCO-3, SIF measurement will be more accurate, giving scientists insight to assess its value to better understand the carbon cycle in plants and forests.

$100 Million Instrument

The OCO-3 costs less than $100 Million to make. It is developed by JPL based on the instrument design co-developed for the original Orbiting Carbon Observatory by Hamilton Sundstrand in Pomona, California. It is built using OCO-2's spare instrument and the appropriate electronics and interfaces to operate on the space station's Japanese Experiment Module - Exposed Facility (JEM-EF). It is an external platform that holds up to 10 instruments.

The OCO-3 is expected to launch no later than April 25. The mission will go on for three years and it will be controlled by mission operators at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. it will be supervised using the communications link managed by NASA's Payload Operations Integration Center at the Huntsville Operations Support Center in Alabama.

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