The world’s most advanced climate observer has been on ice for almost a decade. In a feature for Popular Science‘s April 2011 issue, writer Bill Donahue tracks down the earth-monitoring satellite DSCVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) that was supposed to be launched back in 2001. He finds the $100 million device stowed in a Maryland warehouse — a probable victim of politics and inter-agency bureaucracy.
Standing in a small, carpeted nook, I was able to look through a small observation window into a high-ceilinged, white-walled clean room where a white metal crate was shoved into a corner, beneath a stairwell. DSCOVR sat inside. A green tube supplied the box with a steady feed of nitrogen, to minimize contaminants. It looked to me like forgotten hardware—last year’s cellphone gathering dust in a desk drawer.
DSCVR isn’t the only climate satellite with problems: Donahue’s piece refers to the “delayed” Glory project but doesn’t mention that it actually crashed in a failed launch attempt last month. And in 2009, the OCO (Orbiting Carbon Observatory) satellite similarly succumbed to mechanical defects and was lost before reaching orbit.
A new climate research satellite — the OCO-2 — is slated for launch early in 2013, but given current budget negotiations and a push from House Republicans to slash federally-funded climate change research, OCO-2 may find itself relegated to another government warehouse.