Satellite Mechanism will Map Methane Leaks

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This picture shows a model of the satellite MethaneSAT. (Image Credit: EO Portal)

MethaneSAT has been present in multiple headlines because of its ground-breaking technology. It is the new technology that might just help humanity reach one step closer to a greener Earth. Google has partnered up with SpaceX to help contribute towards a very important problem of carbon emissions through MethaneSAT. MethaneSAT is a satellite that will be orbiting the Earth, collecting data about methane emissions which will finally make gas companies that violate the EU and US regulations accountable for the pollutants they are releasing into the atmosphere with a hefty methane pollution fee through the Environmental Defence Fund (EDF), affecting over 50 companies. 

Last Monday, on March 6th, MethaneSAT was launched into space in a SpaceX rocket. The process is unique, with a clear-cut and precise scale, and a much cheaper cost than most space missions that have been conducted thus far. The MethaneSAT mission is important to uphold the goals set by EDF. Mainly, to have more than a 45% decrease by 2025 in emissions from various agencies that depend on fossil fuels to run and be cost-effective. 

When considering this project, some limiting factors could potentially hinder MethaneSAT from being successful. Cloud coverage is a big issue when it comes to any type of satellite activities. MethaneSAT plans to carry out its missions to avoid clouds whenever possible. By adjusting the position of the satellite up to 45 degrees on either side of its path, it increases the chance of capturing clear images. The satellite’s small pixel size ensures that even small clouds won’t interfere much with its data collection. This way, MethaneSAT can monitor oil and gas operations globally every week, and even more frequently by adjusting its position, maximizing the chances of getting clear data where clouds are sparse and conditions change often. Other than cloud coverage, there are other smaller issues that are also effecting this mission, like high latitudes in the winter stopping observations to be taken in areas like Siberia because of the lack of light to make valuable observations and dark surfaces, caused by some parts of the Earth not reflecting as much light than other areas. 

Like MethaneSAT, a satellite with similar goals and aspirations had previously been sent out into space by the European Space Agency (ESA). Known at the GHGs CCI+ project (aka Claire), people in the ESA were tracking CO2 (Carbon dioxide) and CH4 (methane) emissions, aware of the fact that they were the main pollutants released from anthropogenic sources like vehicles and factories in not one, but several different types of industries. The project is still ongoing, as more people are working hard to develop algorithms to have more satellite-derived CO2 and CH4 atmospheric data products. Although contrast to GHGs, MethaneSAT can produce much more precise data. In addition, this data is also being released for the public to look at. 

MethaneSAT’s groundbreaking technology, supported by partnerships with Google and SpaceX, takes a crucial step towards a greener Earth. By monitoring methane emissions globally, it aims to hold companies accountable for their environmental impact. Despite challenges like cloud cover and seasonal limitations, MethaneSAT’s innovative approach ensures precise data collection. While similar initiatives exist, MethaneSAT’s enhanced precision and accessibility promise significant contributions to climate change mitigation efforts. With ongoing development and public data access, MethaneSAT stands as a pivotal tool in advancing environmental stewardship and sustainable practices.

Written by Divya Saha

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