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NASA will study carbon emissions using twin of satellite that crashed

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By The Associated Press
Monday, June 30, 2014, 9:09 p.m.

LOS ANGELES — Five years after a NASA satellite to track carbon dioxide plunged into the ocean after liftoff, the space agency is launching a carbon copy — this time on a different rocket.

The $468 million mission is designed to study the main driver of climate change emitted from smokestacks and tailpipes. Some of the carbon dioxide is sucked up by trees and oceans, and the rest is lofted into the atmosphere, trapping the sun's heat and warming the planet.

But atmospheric CO2 levels fluctuate with the seasons and in different regions of the Earth. The natural and human activities that cause the changes are complicated. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2 for short, will be able to take an ultra-detailed look at most of the Earth's surface to identify places responsible for producing or absorbing the greenhouse gas.

“This will allow us to understand what processes are controlling how much carbon is absorbed in a given time and place,” Anna Michalak, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science who is part of the mission team, said in an email.

The mission, designed to last two years, could provide data that will help scientists making predictions about future carbon dioxide levels and their impact.

NASA suffered a major scientific — and financial — disaster in 2009 when a rocket carrying the original satellite plummeted into the waters off Antarctica minutes after soaring from Vandenberg Air Force Base along the central California coast.

After the loss, engineers went back to the drawing board and built a near-identical twin that was set to launch before dawn on Tuesday.

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