Fil-Am scientist leads launch of NASA’s first carbon observation space lab

/ 07:16 AM July 07, 2014
dr. basilio

Dr. Ralph Basilio


• Flawless liftoff follows a failed previous attempt 


• Spacecraft to study movement of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere 

VANDENBERG (AFB), California – After the failure of their first attempt to launch an orbiting carbon observation laboratory, NASA scientists led by project manager Dr. Ralph Basilio were ecstatic at the flawless launch of their second attempt on July 1.


“I am happy to report that from the initial health check perspective of the observatory, that we do have indeed a healthy observatory,” said Filiipino American astrophysicist Basilio, the project manager of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

The OCO-2 spacecraft is NASA’s first science satellite meant to study where carbon dioxide is moving into and out of the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Since it is dedicated to studying carbon dioxide, the spacecraft “is of “critical importance to the scientists who are trying to understand the impact of humans on global change,” said Betsy Edwards, program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington during the pre-launch news conference, according to Reuters.

“Roughly half of the carbon is re-absorbed by forests and the ocean, a process that is not well understood,” the report added.

“Understanding the details of those processes will give us some insight into the future and what’s likely to happen over the next decades, even if we continue to consume more and more fossil fuels and emit more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” atmospheric scientist Michael Gunson of NASA’s JPL told Reuters and other media during the pre-launch news conference.

Basilio said that the observatory separated from the launch vehicle’s second stage around 56 minutes after it blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Wednesday. The OCO-2 is already on an “initial 426-mile (690-kilometer) orbit”, according to a JPL report.


The second stage is the part of the vehicle that brings the payload (in this case, the observatory) into orbit after the first stage successfully propels it upward into space.

The first stage — usually the largest part of the rocket — falls off after its propellants are exhausted. That’s when the second stage’s engine is ignited. Once the second stage successfully brings the payload into orbit, it also falls off.

“We got great (real-time) film footage from a forward-facing camera on the launch vehicle’s second stage. We saw the observatory separating and basically moving towards the sun,” Basilio added.

The team also established two-way communication (both ground- and space-borne) with NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) system composed of nine satellites meant to provide “near continuous information relay” to service missions such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station; and the Alaska Satellite Facility, which makes remote-sensing data available to users globally.

“We’re now on our way to completing the rest of our spacecraft check out process. We’d like to be able to do that in the next week or two so that we can begin moving the observatory into its operational orbit,” Basilio said.

This means that OCO-2 will soon be part of a “formation of earth-observing satellites that’s operating in space right now,” called the Afternoon Constellation or the A-Train.

Basilio is the recipient of two NASA Exceptional Achievement Medals — one for leading the CloudSat spacecraft development effort and the other for leading the Deep Space 1 in-flight technology validation work.

He has also has received a NASA Space Act Award for design and development of the Mars Pathfinder ground support equipment, and more than a dozen NASA Group Achievement Awards on these and other unmanned space missions.

Basilio earned his Doctor of Philosophy degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California. He also earned a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering (with an emphasis on astronautics) also from the University of Southern California, a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and is a graduate of the Engineering Management Program at the California Institute of Technology.

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TAGS: Alaska Satellite Facility, astrophysics, atmosphere, atmospheric studies, carbon emissions, Dr. Ralph Basilio, Greenhouse Gases, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS), Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2), space laboratory, US Environmental Protection Agency, Vandenberg Air Force Base
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