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NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory. Image Credit:NASA/ JPLNASA has selected Orbital Sciences Corp., under a $70 million services agreement, for the February 2013 launching of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, a replacement for the original greenhouse gas monitoring spacecraft that was lost during a 2009 launch mishap. OCO-2 is funded as part of NASA's proposed $1.8 billion, 2011 Earth sciences budget.The original spacecraft, launched atop an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL, plummeted into the ocean near Antarctica after lifting off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on Feb. 24, 2009. A mishap investigation board traced the loss to a failure of the rocket's fairing separation mechanism. OCO-1 was the cornerstone of a $273 million, two-year NASA mission to track global carbon dioxide emissions from orbit for the first time. Climate experts, concerned about heat trapped in the atmosphere by rising levels of CO2, urged the space agency to move quickly to develop a similar spacecraft following the mishap.Orbital Sciences will provide a Taurus XL 3110, also launched from Vandenberg, for the 2013 re-flight.Like its predecessor, OCO-2 is designed to identify distinct sources of carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere. The new spacecraft will provide a global map of natural as well as human carbon dioxide sources and "sinks" -- places in the atmosphere where the colorless gas accumulates. Carbon dioxide is the leading greenhouse gas attributed to human activities. Carbon dioxide, water vapor, ozone and methane are among gases in the atmosphere that trap heat from sunlight that would otherwise be reflected off the Earth's surface and back into space. The National Research Council has suggested OCO-2 could provide a baseline for data on carbon emissions as part of a new climate treaty intended to address concerns over global warming.
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