Sensors and spacecraft exceed mission performance goals; flow of precision measurements will open up new opportunities to track and reduce potent greenhouse emissions

Contacts: Jon Coifman, (212) 616-1325, 

(SAN FRANCISCO – September 9 2020) MethaneSAT has reached an important new milestone with completion of the Critical Design Review (CDR) phase for both the mission’s remote sensing instrument and the spacecraft platform “bus” that will provide power and maneuvering, and transmit the vast stream of data from the high resolution sensors to ground stations. Completion of the CDR means that MethaneSAT is now entering the production stage with a design that exceeds anticipated capabilities.

“This is a complex, technically challenging mission driven by the profound urgency of climate change. An intensive design process up front ensures that we can move quickly, and get it right,” said Cassandra Ely, Director at MethaneSAT LLC. “The result is a more powerful measurement tool than even we thought possible. MethaneSAT is now moving from the drawing boards and onto the assembly floor.”

Unique capabilities

MethaneSAT will fill a crucial gap in current technology. Existing satellites can either identify large methane sources and quantify emissions across broad regions, or provide sensitive measurements from smaller, highly targeted locations. MethaneSAT will provide much higher sensitivity and spatial resolution than today’s global mappers, with a far wider field of view than point-source systems.

The 350 kilogram satellite will cover a 260-kilometer (162-mile) field of view. The high-resolution sensor means it can observe areas as small as 100 x 400 meters (110 x 440 yards), with the ability to accurately differences in methane levels as small as two parts per billion.

In addition to the orbital instrument, MethaneSAT is also developing a sophisticated new platform to quickly process and transform the vast stream of data sent back by the satellite, automating complex analytics that currently take scientists weeks or months, creating a steady flow of actionable, accessible information in a variety of packages and formats tailored to enable industry, regulators and the public to track emissions, and document reductions.

“The ability to generate very precise, high-resolution measurements like these on a near-weekly basis opens up a world of new opportunities to reduce the rate at which our planet is warming,” said Mark Brownstein, Senior Vice President of Energy at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the non-profit parent organization of MethaneSAT LLC. “A continuous stream of fresh data will help operators find and fix problems faster, at less cost. It will enable governments and empower the public to see whether methane emissions are being managed effectively. And it will be a critical tool for investors and other stakeholders concerned about the risk of climate change.”

Painstaking process

The CDR involved over 70 engineers and scientists, working virtually due to the COVID-19 situation. In addition to Ball Aerospace, the primary flight system Integrator and instrument provider, and Blue Canyon Technologies, which is supplying the platform bus, the exhaustive review included mission partners at Harvard University and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO). Harvard and SAO are providing the Science Data Processing element of the mission.

The review also included more than 20 leading experts who make up MethaneSAT’s Technical Advisory Group, headed by Joe Rothenberg, former director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and the project’s Science Advisory Group, led by Dr. Dan McCleese, former chief scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

MethaneSAT is a subsidiary of EDF, which has a long record of working with both business and policymakers to create innovative, science-based solutions to critical environmental challenges. EDF also organized an unprecedented series of 16 independent studies that produced more than 35 peer-reviewed scientific papers involving more than 150 academic and industry experts to assess methane emissions at every stage in the U.S. oil and gas supply chain.

The idea for MethaneSAT was first unveiled by EDF President Fred Krupp in an April 2018 TED Talk, as one of the inaugural group of world-changing ideas selected for seed funding by the Audacious Project, successor to the TED Prize.