Emission management

GHGSat's Methane-Detecting Satellite Network Has Doubled in Size

A trio of new satellites that use infrared sensor technology are now flying around the Earth at a speed faster than 4 miles per second.

An infrared sensor identifies the unique signature created by methane as it absorbs sunlight and reflects it back from the surface of the Earth.
Source: GHGSat.

The company behind the first commercial space-based greenhouse-gas monitoring effort has doubled its capacity with this week’s launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

GHGSat said on 25 May that it successfully sent into orbit three additional satellites, which brings its new total to six. The rocket launched from the US Space Force Station at Cape Canaveral, Florida, after which GHGSat said it began the process of booting up the satellites' computers to establish "first contact."

The latest mission is part of partnership with industrial technology firm ABB and comes 6 years after GHGSat sent its first satellite, nicknamed Claire, into space.

The three new satellites are named after the children of the company’s staff: Luca, Penny, and Diako. Each about the size of a microwave oven, they are moving at more than 4 miles per second and will orbit the planet multiple times a day.

Montréal-based GHGSat has helped pioneer the use of satellites for high-resolution measurements of methane emissions from industrial sites, including oil and gas facilities. The company claims that more than 75% of the world’s fugitive methane emissions detected in 2021 were too small in volume to be observed using public-use satellites.

“These measurements are critical for stakeholders globally to better understand their carbon footprint and take necessary action to reduce it,” the company said in a statement.

Each GHGSat satellite orbits the Earth about every 90 minutes in a polar orbit (north-south) while the Earth turns (east-west) below it, enabling measurement of any source on the surface of the Earth, within days.
Source: GHGSat.

Users of the data being collected in Earth’s orbit include industrial firms, government agencies, and financial institutions. GHGSat said following this year’s COP26 climate-focused conference in Scotland that it was tapped to provide emissions data to the International Methane Emissions Observatory in coordination with the United Nations.

GHGSat is not stopping with the most recent launch and said it plans to grow its constellation of methane-detecting satellites to 10 by the end of next year. In its partnership with ABB, future plans also include the deployment of CO2-detecting satellites.

The measurement technology developed by GHGSat is so sensitive that it was used earlier this year to detect and quantify the amount of methane present in cow burps at a California feedlot from an altitude of 300 miles. On an annualized basis, the company said the burps amounted to a release of more than 5,000 mtpa of methane.

However, GHGSat has gained more notoriety for monitoring oil and gas developments since the company launched its first sensor systems in 2016.

Last year, the firm began working with supermajors Chevron, Shell, and TotalEnergies to monitor 18 offshore sites in the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico. The 12-month long research project is set to wrap up this summer and will be the first to capture high-resolution data of anthropogenic methane emissions at sea.