Seasoned Team Leader Hails from Google Cloud, Skybox Imaging

Contacts: Jon Coifman, (212) 616-1325, jcoifman@edf.org
(SAN FRANCISCO – Feb. 12, 2020) Software engineer Tom Melendez has joined MethaneSAT, where he will head the team developing a sophisticated data platform at the heart of the unique mission. Melendez comes from Google Cloud where he led the development of backend systems to analyze satellite imagery from multiple providers.

The platform Melendez and his team are building at MethaneSAT will process and manage the enormous volume of information generated as the satellite measures methane emissions from oil and gas and other human-made sources worldwide on a near-weekly basis. It will serve up a wide array of custom data products to industry, investors, public officials and other stakeholders.

The satellite and data platform, together with a comprehensive program to cultivate and engage active users in industry, government, and other key constituencies together make up the three core elements of the MethaneSAT mission.

“My background is developing systems that enable users to do big things by giving them the ability to access and analyze new information in ways that they couldn’t before,” Melendez said. “With MethaneSAT, the data has to be both secure and accessible, open to a wide variety of users coming in from different platforms of their own, all looking to do different things with the information. It’s our job to make their job as easy as possible.”

Before Google, Tom was with satellite innovator Skybox Imaging, where he was responsible for turning the raw bits from the satellite into actionable insights and delivering those to customers.

“Building production systems to handle scientific data is tricky, because the systems need to be resilient, flexible and self-healing,” he said. “It takes a great deal of capability to get the insight out of the data. Most systems are built for high throughput of short transactions. Systems that manage interconnected, long-running parallel processes are different, much more complicated animals.”

Computational mission

MethaneSAT will use a highly sensitive spectrometer to separate a narrow band within the shortwave infrared spectrum where methane absorbs light, allowing it to detect methane concentrations as low as two parts per billion. That high resolution, coupled with a 200-kilometer view path, will give MethaneSAT the ability to quantify even small emissions over large areas.

“The ability to transform a vast stream of raw spectrographic information into the actionable data our users will need is every bit as critical to our mission as the satellite itself,” said Dr. Steven Hamburg, MethaneSAT project co-lead. “Automating these complex processes is central and unique to the mission; it’s a game changer. Tom’s job is to build a platform to capture, process and deliver a constant stream of reliable data based on the science developed by our partners at Harvard and Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.”

The system will apply inverse modeling of methane concentration patterns factoring in the effects of winds and other atmospheric conditions to determine the source. Analytical tools will distinguish human-made from natural sources, quantifying emissions from both large and small sites across wide areas. The results will enable both companies and countries to identify, manage and reduce their methane emissions.

Turning data into action

“MethaneSAT will deliver unique capabilities at every step: The satellite generates data we’ve never had before; a powerful backbone to serve up that information however and wherever users need it; and a sustained initiative built on years of relationships and experience that will put the data in the hands of decision-makers, and also into the public eye,” said Mark Brownstein, Senior Vice President, Energy at MethaneSAT’s parent, the non-profit Environmental Defense Fund,

It’s estimated the satellite will generate three terabytes of data per day, roughly a petabyte a year. Melendez will create a platform that handles storage, analytics and access, and facilitate the creation of multiple data products. The computational volume is estimated at about 2100 CPU cores per day for the most basic operations, the equivalent of about 550 laptops. That load will grow as user interface expands.

“Access to information can be transformational,” Melendez said. “I like doing work that has a greater purpose. Giving my kids a healthier planet to live on is one of the greatest things I can do for them.”

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MethaneSAT, LLC is an affiliate of Environmental Defense Fund, Incorporated, a leading international nonprofit organization. EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships to create transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. Follow us on Twitter at @MethaneSAT, or connect with us at www.MethaneSat.org. Copyright © 2019 MethaneSAT, LLC. All Rights Reserved.