NASA Cancels Satellite CO2 Monitoring Project

Essay by Eric Worrall

h/t Dr. Willie Soon; The Geocarb Project cancellation leaves a lot of questions – like how NASA managed to spend $170 million on the CO2 monitoring project without putting anything into space.

NASA cancels greenhouse gas monitoring satellite due to cost

By SETH BORENSTEIN November 30, 2022

NASA is canceling a planned satellite that was going to intensely monitor greenhouse gases over the Americas because it got too costly and complicated.

But the space agency said it will still be watching human-caused carbon pollution but in different ways.

When it was announced six years ago, it was supposed to cost $166 million, but the latest NASA figures show costs would balloon to more than $600 million and it was years late, according to NASA Earth Sciences Director Karen St. Germain.

Unlike other satellites that monitor greenhouse gases from low Earth orbit and get different parts of the globe in a big picture, GeoCarb was supposed to be at a much higher altitude of 22,236 miles (35,786 kilometers) from one fixed place in orbit and focus intently on North and South America. That different and further perspective proved too difficult and costly to get done on budget and on time, St. Germain said.

The equipment alone has more than doubled in price and then there were non-technical issues that would have added more, she said. The agency has already spent $170 million on the now-canceled program and won’t spend any more.

Read more:

How could it possibly cost $600 million to launch two satellites to geostationary orbit? How did the agency manage to spend $170 million without launching a satellite?

I’d love to see an audit into the project, to see how much money if any was diverted to allegedly dual use purposes. Perhaps the incoming Republican congress could launch an investigation into NASA’s expenditure on “non technical issues”.

NASA may still proceed with another Earth focussed project, according to the AP article. Let us hope the new project doesn’t suffer cost blowouts and “non-technical” issues.

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Tom Halla
December 1, 2022 10:04 am

What did NASA actually spend the money on?

Reply to  Tom Halla
December 1, 2022 10:19 am

Perhaps program managers are hunkering down at some beach resort with the researchers from Mauna Loa.

Reply to  Scissor
December 1, 2022 2:42 pm

That’s not it. Having retired from the satellite design business, I can tell you where the money goes. A lot of design work goes into job before you even win the contract. Contractors are paid between 10% and 50% of the cost of that effort. 15 years ago, on a job like this, you’re talking at least $30M per contractor over the years it took to produce the proposal. Assuming only two bidders, NASA may have spent $30M total. NASA will take a year or two determining the winner. In most cases, thew contractors are forced to let the design engineering group go into other program. It’s way too expensive to pay them to just sit around and wait. So, after the winning team is selected, a new team of engineers has to be assembled/hired, as the programs they went to will not want to let them go.

The new team will have space experience, but they’ll still need time to come up to speed for this specific application. They’ll be writing specifications, selecting potential vendors, contracts with partners. During the specification development, NASA will descend with a small army of college whiz kids who know how to spell CO2, and not much else. They will require (and get) offices at the contractor’s facility that will dwarf anything the contractors get for themselves. They will have a million questions that require analyses and formal answers at the cost of time to continue development of the original contract. Eventually, a whiz kid will come up with a really great idea for a no-cost contract change (under $100K) that will greatly enhance the satellite mission.

An example: some whiz kid wants a sensor added. A contractor engineer will tell him that can be procured for only $30k. Awesome. Add it to the requirements. However, it adds 100 pounds to the weight of the vehicle. Larger fuel tanks will be required (an extra 500 pounds of RCS/ACS propellant. The TTCS will need more power and additional modules to support the command and telemetry required for the new sensor. All this adds $3M to the total cost – not $30k as the lone engineer mentioned. He wasn’t asked about the system cost – just the cost of the space-rated sensor. The whiz kids weren’t interested in the details.

This will happen a dozen times, requiring bigger RCS/ACS thrusters, additional batteries, larger solar arrays. A bigger booster is required at an additional cost of $50M. Systems engineering is now working to figure out all the impacts of adding these systems. The price has gone up $85M. Original orders are being thrown away (no one can use them) or stored indefinitely at high cost as NASA wants detailed tracking and carefully controlled environments.

A couple years of this and NASA finally figures out they can’t afford the CO2 mission because all the add-ons. Money was already spent on hardware that can’t be re-sold. There is no assembly yet. It is all the contractor’s fault because those dozen little add-ons were only supposed to cost $360k – not hundreds of millions of dollars in growing the satellite and booster. The NASA kids are upset because they know it is the contractor managers that screwed everything up.

The NASA whiz kids learned nothing (because it was the contractor’s fault), and they will return to screw up another contract the same way. Meanwhile, Taxpayers just laid out $170M for nothing.

Been there, done that. This is a brief explanation of how it happens time after time after time. I left the details out. A full explanation requires a book. Ask any system architect with 10 years of experience and they’ll be able to tell you plenty of stories. These systems are not simple. The contractor gets mud on his face, and nobody wants to blame the NASA whiz kids. We can all think of dozens of ways to stop this – and NASA program management knows dozens of ways to circumvent them.

Reply to  Ex-KaliforniaKook
December 1, 2022 2:52 pm


Thank you, Kook, great explanation of where the money goes. I worked in government contract business in the DoD for about 14 years and have seen where the money goes and why.

And then there are the new “requirements”and such so $$ keep flowing.

Sheesh, almost like the climate grants to do further research and produce the same results.

Gums sends…

Writing Observer
Reply to  Ex-KaliforniaKook
December 2, 2022 5:37 am

If the Moon program had been run this way, my (still hypothetical, darn it!) grandchild might have a shot at being the first astronaut. A great-great-grandchild might be the first to set foot on the lunar surface.

We might get things done sooner if we just shut the whole thing down, wait five to ten years for the “institutional knowledge” to fade, and start over from scratch.

Reply to  Ex-KaliforniaKook
December 2, 2022 6:04 am

after the winning team is selected, a new team of engineers has to be assembled/hired,”

The large contracting companies usually put their best people into winning a contract.
As you point out, Ex-KaliforniaKook, staffing the project afterwards are usually smart people without experience in either the contract purpose or how the government functions.
After these fresh contractors gain experience with space, rockets, atmosphere, gases, etc. they are drained off the project by the contracted company for use in other projects.

“An example: some whiz kid wants a sensor added.”

The worst offenders are the executives and high ranking military officers who, when getting status and design presentation updates, want major questions and concepts answered.
These senior executives always must “add their “Two Cents”, so they can claim to personally modifying the project. Plus, they have bad habit of demanding favorite contracting companies to be included in the design.

Changes to satisfy these senior executives easily add millions in additional costs for little to zero improvements.

If NASA estimates $600 million, they’d be lucky to keep the project costs under $2 billion.

High ranking government officials and officers are measured by project size, staffing and costs. A bigger more expensive project lets the high ranking SES (Senior Executive Service) and military officials demand higher merit raises and promotions.

Nor are the SES and Military salaries included in the cost estimates.

Then there are the procurement and contract officials…

Reply to  Scissor
December 2, 2022 5:39 am

Perhaps program managers are hunkering down at some beach resort”

Conferences and flights to worldwide locations, including the annual COP echo chamber, dinners and sociological entertainments.

NASA executives and contractors likely flew 1st class everywhere.

Reply to  Tom Halla
December 1, 2022 12:29 pm

Surely the first $170 million went to ESG investing.

Who cares if any satellites are actually launched when NASA managed to meet their top priority!

Rich Davis
Reply to  pillageidiot
December 1, 2022 2:00 pm

Top priority used to be Muslim outreach. I hope that they at least got that done.

Reply to  Tom Halla
December 1, 2022 1:16 pm

Its ‘even worse than believed” as the Geocarb CO2 mission was originally a reuse of ‘leftover’ satellite instrument modified to attach to the International Space Station.

The launch process even was a piggy back on a commercial satellite launch
This was from 2018

Tom Halla
Reply to  Duker
December 1, 2022 1:18 pm

Maybe they reverted to their mission under Obama, and spent it on Muslim outreach?

Rich Davis
Reply to  Tom Halla
December 1, 2022 2:01 pm

Ha ha Tom, great minds…

December 1, 2022 10:09 am


NASA is a bureaucracy. They probably spent the money on planning and contracting for much of the work. Then if they cancelled for convenience, rather than cause, they would have paid all those contractors liquidated damages.

Seen this a couple times in my career, with agencies other than NASA. Spend a lot of money, get nothing really tangible in return.

Bill Pekny
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
December 1, 2022 11:17 am

Yes. I’ve personally seen a couple of high tech government contracts cancelled for convenience.

Hmmm. Wonder if wind, solar, batteries might/should follow that path?

Reply to  Bill Pekny
December 1, 2022 2:20 pm

And how much would THAT cost us?

December 1, 2022 10:10 am

How many tons of CO2 were expended in this mission to nowhere?

December 1, 2022 10:11 am

“”human-caused carbon pollution””

Science it ain’t.

Reply to  strativarius
December 1, 2022 11:42 am

Missing links in attribution (i.e. natural vs anthropogenic), qualification (e.g. greening effect), and effect… net-effect (e.g. global vs local, temporal vs progressive).

”human-caused carbon pollution”

It reads like a cookbook for carbon-based life. Abort. Cannibalize. Sequester.

December 1, 2022 10:31 am

This is all Putin’s fault. We can’t afford the price of diesel to launch satellites anymore.

Steve Case
December 1, 2022 10:39 am

Let us hope the new project doesn’t suffer cost blowouts and “non-technical” issues.”

Let’s hope NASA drops the whole project

Reply to  Steve Case
December 2, 2022 7:03 am

NASA already launched three CO₂ satellites for tracking CO₂.

NASA has not been able to prove anthropogenic CO₂, yet. Put the right satellite with the right sensors into space and their gravy train, along with glory and fame, is guaranteed.

Instead, they very expensively failed again.
December 1, 2022 10:40 am

Since the ‘science is settled’ who needs to track CO2 anymore?

Tom Abbott
Reply to
December 2, 2022 4:13 am

Yeah, NASA already has Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) in orbit monitoring CO2. Judging by the lack of information provided to the public from these instruments, why should taxpayers pay for another CO2 monitor?

The silence is deafening from OCO-2 results. Maybe that’s because there is nothing to see there, and NASA is reluctant to say so for political reasons.

Has any useful information been gleaned from OCO-2? Not that I can see.

Joseph Zorzin
December 1, 2022 10:40 am

“But the space agency said it will still be watching human-caused carbon pollution…”

Big assumption there- that there is such a thing as human-caused carbon pollution.

I’d have more respect for such “science writing” if the author understood the difference between carbon and carbon dioxide. I doubt the agency used those words.

“but the latest NASA figures show costs would balloon to more than $600 million”

If they think that’s expensive, what do they think of the hundreds of trillions it’ll take to get to net zero nirvana?

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
December 1, 2022 2:22 pm

The writer, Seth Borenstein, is a complete idiot and buffoon. I was surprised to see this moron is still around.

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
December 1, 2022 2:47 pm

Those trillions are not their money, so they don’t care.

December 1, 2022 11:04 am

Likely adding to NASA’s reluctance is that OCO1 and OCO2 did not show the desired results – the USA is not a major CO2 contributor. Forest basins are.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Denis
December 1, 2022 9:20 pm

And, all of those great, inconvenient graphics have disappeared from the OCO-2 website. The last time I looked, it appeared that they are providing raw data for researchers, but nothing for the layman or journalists.

December 1, 2022 11:08 am

NASA cancels greenhouse gas monitoring satellite due to cost

But global warming is an existential threat to all life on earth.

Cost is unimportant when we’re all gonna diiiieee!!!

December 1, 2022 11:10 am

Have you worked in the space industry Eric?

Reply to  Eric Worrall
December 2, 2022 12:42 am

I refer you to Ex-Kalifornia Kook for a fairly thorough explanation of how things happen. However, based on my experience, and what I’ve read in the reports, I suspect the $166m cost mentioned is unrelated to the actual development of the equipment. As I remember it, when Ariane 501 exploded 30s after launch in the mid-90s, it took around $300m worth of science satellite with it. Also, if you look here – – the estimated cost of Envisat, the last major space project I worked on, was €2.3bn (I don’t know how true that is, but it wouldn’t surprise me). It does, also, mention €300m of that being costs of operating the satellite over 5 years.

I suspect that anyone who thought you could design, build, launch and operate a science satellite for $166m would be laughed at. However it does seem likely the amount mentioned would be how much they expected it to cost to operate over its lifetime. Given that their initial estimate would’ve been based on piggy-backing on a commercial comms satellite but had to be changed to a bespoke platform, a large cost increase in that doesn’t seem unreasonable.

In summary, I suspect that the amount spent so far is a relatively small part of the budget to actually build the equipment, and is unconnected to the cap on what is probably in-orbit costs.

December 1, 2022 11:19 am

NASA is canceling a planned satellite that was going to intensely monitor greenhouse gases over the Americas because it got too costly and complicated.”

I guess by “complicated” they mean “well, crap. There’s no way we can put this thing into orbit without looking like the liars that we are regarding “climate change” if anyone on the outside manages to get their hands on any data product that this thing might produce.”

Peta of Newark
Reply to  R.Morton
December 1, 2022 11:35 am

When someone, anyone, says that something is ‘complicated’ – it is a flat-out admission that they don’t understand whatever it is.

They don’t understand their own science – fair enough – it’s complete garbage and no-one understands it.
Simples: CO2 doesn’t radiate at the temps & pressures in Earth’s atmosphere, even Kirk Spock Scotty et al aboard Starship Enterprise wouldn’t be able to see it

December 1, 2022 12:13 pm

I guess they discovered that CO2 as a climate driver was merely a convenient conjecture to facilitate control, ergo difficult to analyze in the “correct” manner.

Hoyt Clagwell
Reply to  slowroll
December 1, 2022 10:11 pm

They probably kept asking for a satellite that would provide data to create images of the U.S. in scary red colors brighter than anywhere else on the planet. Unfortunately NASA engineers couldn’t figure out how to image prosperity.

Gary Pearse
December 1, 2022 12:23 pm

The Clime Syndicate doesn’t really want to know more about Atmos CO2. The first CO2 satellite, put up to stick our FF emission sins in our faces, rather showed us “The Great Global Greening Miracle^тм”. Even more humiliating, the champion global anomaly was the DRC jungle, not the Ruhr Valley or Pittsburgh. Nice to order up all the emails.

Dodgy Geezer
December 1, 2022 1:05 pm

Non-technical reason is code for – the project would have produced embarrassing results.

Might have shown that climate change theory was wrong? That would be a major reason to close it…

Reply to  Dodgy Geezer
December 1, 2022 1:19 pm

It would just measure CO2 concentrations. Its just a sensor not related to CO2 theory

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Duker
December 1, 2022 1:36 pm

If it’s “not related to CO2 theory,” why do CO2 concentrations need to be measured?!

Are they going to measure the concentration of nitrogen while they’re at measuring things “not related to CO2 theory?!”

Rich Davis
Reply to  AGW is Not Science
December 1, 2022 4:59 pm

As always, Duker is willfully clueless. Obviously his communist comrades are just doing The Science ™ and could never have any hidden agendas. After all Dementia Joe never wastes taxpayer dollars so this is clearly just related to cost overruns that were too much for his austerity budget (aka the Inflation Enhancement Act that is elsewhere burying programs in dump truck loads of Benjamins).

Reply to  Rich Davis
December 1, 2022 8:47 pm

They can and do measure CO2 all over the earth. Apparently its not evenly distributed.
Then there is this
23 March 2018 – Funding for the OCO-3 project was restored
Trumps budget…
How about that , the Maga clueless are even less aware than their moron president was

Hoyt Clagwell
Reply to  Duker
December 1, 2022 10:13 pm

Much like lawyers, the government doesn’t ask questions without knowing what answer they want beforehand.

Rud Istvan
December 1, 2022 1:14 pm

T o quote Will Rodgers: “It is a good thing we don’t get all the government we pay for.” NASA ‘only’ wasted $160 million rather than $600 million. A bargain.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Rud Istvan
December 2, 2022 4:37 am

I love Will Rogers’ quotes! Here’s a couple:

“I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”

I bet after seeing us, George Washington would sue us for calling him “father.”

Will had another one I always liked, but I couldn’t find a quote of it. He said something to the effect that: Congress doesn’t do much, but that’s what we want done.

Louis Hunt
December 1, 2022 1:20 pm

How much of the $170 million went to Muslim outreach? Wasn’t that one of NASA’s foremost tasks?

“In an interview last month [2010] on Al-Jazeera, NASA chief Charlie Bolden said that one of NASA’s foremost tasks is to engage with Muslim nations.”

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Louis Hunt
December 2, 2022 4:44 am

NASA spent a few hundred thousand dollars on the Muslim outreach. They sent several groups of children from Pakistan to Space Camp. That’s what Obama’s Muslim outreach amounted to. Typical Obama virtue signalling: Lots of fanfair but not much substance.

December 1, 2022 1:27 pm

Maybe the CCP can track it from their new space station. And as a side benefit, they can track the imported frozen seafood that caused COVID19. /sarc

John Shewchuk
December 1, 2022 1:59 pm

They stopped because they know the project will not support their agenda, and in this way they can continue to spin narratives versus alter data. There is no climate emergency — just climate propaganda.

Dean S
December 1, 2022 2:31 pm

Well its not just NASA spending large amounts of money on projects and not getting them up.

I’ve been involved in mining projects where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent doing studies and preliminary work and the project does not get up, mostly due to adverse findings when it comes time to getting final approvals in the court of public opinion, despite being recommended by technical government approval bodies.

Dan Hughes
December 1, 2022 2:39 pm

Maybe can’t see/find/recover the human signal in the truly massive natural flows?

December 1, 2022 2:39 pm

The instrumentation to measure CO2 from satellites is not accurate enough to justify.
Who needs egg on face for spending $166 million for a jumble of numbers that cannot be properly interpreted? There is precedent, using inaccurate numbers from satellite platforms to estimate sea level change.
NASA is merely showing its preferred word salad for saying “We spent a lot of money on a project that was technically invalid. We apologise to the taxpayer, we have retrenched those accountable, we have changed top management to those with the guts and the skills to stop outlandish projects before they waste money.”
Expensive commodity, this woke word salad. Geoff S

December 1, 2022 2:41 pm

said it will still be watching human-caused carbon pollution in other ways

1) Wasn’t this project about finding the best way to monitor carbon pollution? What other ways are available that are already developed?
2) Is it just possible that the two basic, conceptual problems set out for the project [ a) that carbon is pollution, and b) that anyone could tell the difference between carbon released by humans and carbon released from all other sources] are not really problems? “Nothing to see here, folks!”
3) On the scale of government projects to do anything, $170 million is actually pretty cheap. A trillion here, a trillion there, and pretty soon, you’re talking real money.

Hoyt Clagwell
Reply to  dk_
December 1, 2022 10:20 pm

They probably need every penny to establish their new ESG base on the moon.

December 1, 2022 3:20 pm

Probably realized that knowing where CO2 is in the atmosphere will give us better idea of climate sensitivity.

We treat CO2 as instantaneously well mixed. Reality is it remains near the surface a bit. More than half of it is consumed by the biosphere right away, but only part of the year. Most emissions happen in the winter when they aren’t consumed by plants.

And CO2 at the surface probably matters more than the mixed concentration.

Reply to  aaron
December 1, 2022 3:27 pm
December 1, 2022 3:28 pm

Wow. I dreamed of working for NASA, but old age got the best of me. Now I dream of NASA, DOE, HUD, Welfare, SocSec, Medicare, etc etc all being hit with the meat cleaver. Most agencies in the USA federal government should not have over 500 employees. I’ve been noticing…..j/k.

December 1, 2022 3:44 pm

And then there is SpaceX….

Reply to  enginer01
December 1, 2022 5:02 pm

That’s what I was going to say: just ask Elon Musk to put some CO2 detectors on new Starlink satellites.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  niceguy12345
December 2, 2022 5:01 am

SpaceX has a leader that knows what he wants to do and he focuses all his attention on getting those things done. He eliminates the bureaucratic decision-making.

NASA is completely the opposite. All bureaucracy and no focus from the leadership.

NASA should hire Musk to design and orbit a Carbon Dioxide monitor, if they feel the need for one, and cut the unwieldy NASA bureaucracy out of the process.

The bureaucracy is the problem. NASA leadership is a contributing problem because they give the bureaucracy free rein.

Rich Davis
December 1, 2022 5:02 pm

Once again, I had one simple request to have a satellite with frickin’ laser beams on its head, but my cycloptic friend here informs me that’s not possible. What do we have?

Loren Wilson
December 1, 2022 6:46 pm

The cynical part of me thinks that the results from the previous CO2-measuring satellite did not show what they wanted to see, so there was no push to collect more data that didn’t support their cause.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Loren Wilson
December 1, 2022 6:51 pm

Ding-ding-ding!!! Loren wins the prize.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Loren Wilson
December 2, 2022 5:02 am

What results? The results are a NASA secret, as far as I can tell.

December 1, 2022 7:47 pm

$160 million for not getting it up.

Yes, testosterone levels really are on the decline.

December 1, 2022 8:27 pm

It sounds like an amazingly successful mission. Without even launching anything into orbit, they discovered the astronomical phenomenon known as the “budgetary black hole”…

December 2, 2022 5:35 am

but the latest NASA figures show costs would balloon to more than $600 million”

Federal departments are usually incompetent when estimating costs. i.e., you know those estimates use 2020 interest and workhour rates.

John Wilson
December 2, 2022 7:01 am

My sense is that there might be a couple of agendas here. One is that money was sucked up by the Webb telescope and secondly, I bet they didn’t want to find out what they thought they would find out undermining the political green agenda.

December 2, 2022 11:26 am

non technical issues, aka GRAFT.

December 2, 2022 11:32 am

You only have to look at the rainbow coalition of sub-par individuals NASA put in front of the cameras during the JWST “reveal” to understand the ballooning costs. It took teams of dozens of face diapered, equity hires over an hour to show us five frickin images.

December 2, 2022 11:34 am

If they want to know where the CO2 is coming from they need to park over SE Asia, not the Americas.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  climategrog
December 5, 2022 11:35 am

We are one of the major consumers of the goods produced there. Therefore, we have indirect culpability for the CO2.

December 3, 2022 1:22 am

Satellite maps showing more CO2 over the Congo and Amazon forests than over major cities were clearly “data non grata”

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