SANSA monitors NASA’s OCO-2 satellite launch

July 17th, 2014, Published in Articles: PositionIT


The South African National Space Agency’s (SANSA) Hartebeesthoek ground station recently played a vital role in the launch of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite by acquiring the rocket signal over African airspace and providing live video feed to the United Launch Alliance (ULA). NASA’s OCO-2 satellite was successfully launched from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on 2 July 2014.

ULA launched the Delta II rocket carrying the OCO-2 spacecraft at 11:56 CAT, and at 12:45 CAT SANSA’s Hartebeesthoek ground station acquired the rocket signal.  Hartebeesthoek’s exclusive location and technical expertise enabled it to monitor the event, and its coverage included the second stage burn-2 and live video footage of the spacecraft separation. Monitoring satellites following launch events is  essential, enabling the launch team to ensure that the satellite is on track in terms of its specific flight trajectories and functionalities in space.


An artist’s concept rendering of the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO)-2. (Credit: NASA)


Prelaunch preparations and calibrations occur long before the actual launch. For a ground station to qualify or be eligible to conduct any support, a number of tests are conducted including the establishment of a SATCOM uplink to send simulator telemetry and video imagery to Vandenberg mission control. Hartebeesthoek is the only station in the Southern Hemisphere with this type of capability and there is no room for error.

Watch the spacecraft separation in the video below.


As the Delta II approached the horizon,  the SANSA team at Hartebeesthoek witnessed  the second stage burn-2 which included the ignition of the second engine to propel the satellite into its insertion orbit. Soon after, the spacecraft camera was switched on to monitor the separation. (The camera is located on the strut – looking forward at the spacecraft.) Telemetry received from the craft included high quality video footage which was sent to ULA. Multiple redundancies in the form of antennas and sub-systems are employed to minimise the risk of failure. Both the second stage burn-2 and the live video streaming happened in a matter of 11 minutes.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2, is expected to provide insight into how the planet adjusts to the increased production of carbon dioxide from a vantage point in orbit that will allow it to take readings on a scale never achieved before. The OCO-2 is comprised of a single instrument that flies on a dedicated spacecraft. The instrument, consisting of three high resolution grating spectrometers, will acquire precise measurements of atmospheric CO2. The OCO-2 Science Team will compare Target Mode measurements with those acquired by ground-based and airborne instruments to validate OCO-2 mission data. The observatory has a planned operational life of two years.

Contact May Botha, SANSA, 012 12 334-5021,

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