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NASA creates new climate-science mission

Even under the threat of cuts under the incoming federal government, NASA announces a mission to study vegetation health and greenhouse gases.

NASA is the world leader in Earth and climate research, and it's now confirmed its commitment to that position. The space agency has just announced a brand new, long-term, first-of-its-kind mission to study vegetation health and greenhouse gases from a satellite in space.

It's called the Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory, or GeoCARB, and it will launch on a commercial communications satellite to observe the Americas from a distance of around 35,400 kilometres, or 22,000 miles. From this position, it will monitor plant health and vegetation stress, and study in close detail the processes that control carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane.


Composite image of the Americas as seen by night, assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data provided courtesy of Chris Elvidge (NOAA National Geophysical Data Center)

In November this year, Senior Advisor to President-elect Donald Trump Bob Walker told The Guardian that the new administration planned to strip NASA of funding for climate research.

"We see NASA in an exploration role, in deep space research," he said. "Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission."

"The GeoCARB mission breaks new ground for NASA's Earth science and applications programs," said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "GeoCARB will provide important new measurements related to Earth's global natural carbon cycle, and will allow monitoring of vegetation health throughout North, Central and South America."

NASA estimates the cost of the mission will be $166 million over five years, including initial development, deployment and data analysis. For context, in 2015, the US' military expenditure was an estimated $596 billion.