VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) — A rocket carrying a NASA satellite lit up the pre-dawn skies Wednesday on a mission to track atmospheric carbon dioxide, the chief culprit behind global warming.
The Delta 2 rocket blasted off from California at 2:56 a.m. and released the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite in low-Earth orbit 56 minutes later, bringing relief to mission officials who lost a similar spacecraft five years ago.
The flight was "a perfect ride into space," said Ralph Basilio, the OCO-2 project manager, at a post-launch press conference.
Power-supplying solar arrays deployed, initial checks showed the spacecraft was healthy and two-way communications were established, he said.
The launch was delayed a day because of a failure in ground equipment 46 seconds before liftoff Tuesday morning.
NASA tried in 2009 to launch a satellite dedicated to studying carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas caused by the burning of fossil fuels. A satellite plunged into the ocean off Antarctica after a hardware failure with the Taurus XL rocket.
After the loss, NASA spent several years and millions of dollars building a near-identical twin.
Mike Miller, a senior vice president with satellite builder Orbital Sciences Corp. who has been with the program since its earliest days, said he was among those devastated by the first failure.
"It was very much like losing a close family friend or member ... so we're very happy to see this new day," Miller said.
Like the original, OCO-2 was designed to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide from 438 miles above the Earth's surface. Its polar orbit will allow it to cover about 80 percent of the globe.
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