Washington, Nov 13 : NASA's first spacecraft dedicated to studying carbon dioxide, has arrived at its launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, to begin final launch preparations.
Called 'The Orbiting Carbon Observatory', the spacecraft arrived on November 11 at its launch site on California's central coast after completing a cross-country trip by truck from its manufacturer, Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Virginia.
After final tests, the spacecraft will be integrated onto an Orbital Sciences Taurus rocket in preparation for its planned January 2009 launch.
The observatory will help solve some of the lingering mysteries in our understanding of Earth's carbon cycle and its primary atmospheric component, carbon dioxide, a chemical compound that is produced both naturally and through human activities.
Each year, humans release more than 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels.
Scientists have said that increases in carbon dioxide resulting from human activities have thrown Earth's natural carbon cycle out of balance, increasing global temperatures and changing the planet's climate.
While scientists have a good understanding of carbon dioxide emissions resulting from burning fossil fuels, their understanding of carbon dioxide from other human-produced and natural sources is relatively poor.
Scientists do not know precisely where the absorbed carbon dioxide from human emissions is stored, what natural processes are absorbing it or whether those processes will continue to work to limit increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide in the future as they do now.
The observatory's space-based measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide will have the precision, resolution and coverage needed to provide the first complete picture of both human and natural sources of carbon dioxide emissions.
It will show the places where they are absorbed, known as "sinks," at regional scales everywhere on Earth.
Its data will reduce uncertainties in forecasts of how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere and improve the accuracy of global climate change predictions.
The observatory's science instrument features three first-of-a-kind high-resolution spectrometers that spread reflected sunlight into its various colors.
By analyzing these spectra, scientists can detect what gases are in Earth's atmosphere and determine their amounts.
The spectrometers are specifically tuned to measure the amount of reflected sunlight absorbed by carbon dioxide and molecular oxygen.
These measurements will be analyzed to yield monthly estimates of atmospheric carbon dioxide over 621-square-mile regions of Earth's surface to an accuracy of 0.3 to 0.5 percent.
The observatory will launch into a 438-mile near-polar, sun-synchronous orbit inclined 98.2 degrees to Earth's equator, mapping the globe once every 16 days.