Fit with other missions

MethaneSAT is designed to augment and deepen the information we are beginning to get from other satellite systems, either orbiting now or in the planning stages. There are several efforts in different phases of development.

TROPOMI was launched by the European Space Agency in October 2017 and is providing data. GOSAT-2 was recently launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The state of California is working with the company Planet Labs to build a system, and are in the process of laying out the science and strategy for a target-mode instrument, which would look at emissions from specific sites.

In the private sector, GHGSat has launched a demonstration methane detection satellite called Claire that is designed to look at methane emissions from specific facilities. GHGSat plans to launch an upgraded satellite in 2019 with additional satellites planned in the future.

Each mission is important and has its own role in the ecosystem of satellites, with each mission having the potential to complement and strengthen the others. The main differences in satellite systems come down to scale, precision and data usage.

  • TROPOMI is looking at a much larger swath and with much coarser spatial resolution and higher detection limit than MethaneSAT. This mission seeks to understand and quantify very large sources of methane emissions on a global scale. While data from TROPOMI is publicly available since 2019, it is not in a form that is easily actionable.
  • GHGSat and the California/Planet mission have a narrow field of view, designed to examine previously known emissions sources within a 10 – 20km swath. This information can be used by government or companies to monitor emissions at specific facilities for regulatory enforcement or operational compliance.
  • By contrast, MethaneSAT is a single satellite with a wide swath, high spatial resolution and a high-precision instrument capable of mapping and quantifying methane emissions from large swaths of land—about 200 km or approximately 125 miles.

The complementary aspects of each project are noteworthy. For example, TROPOMI provides data about areas across the globe that have very large emissions. MethaneSAT will provide weekly data from many target regions around the world, quantifying almost all emissions and as well as larger point sources.

This makes it possible to assess the full measure of the problem, determine who is responsible, and press for action. Meanwhile, the California/Planet mission and GHGSat’s technology can be used by countries or companies to measure and monitor specific facilities with large emissions, for regulatory enforcement or operational compliance, once such measures are in place.