New Zealand’s first government-funded space mission, aimed at helping cut global methane emissions, is expected to be ready for launch next year. The joint New Zealand-U.S. satellite aims to help with a key climate change issue by identifying methane gas leaks from oil and gas companies, as well as agriculture. Experts are gathering Friday in Auckland to discuss the ambitious project.
The spacecraft called MethaneSAT is designed to chart emissions of methane, a far more potent global warming gas than carbon dioxide. Methane is produced when living things die and decompose, and it is also present in natural gas.
The new satellite is a collaboration between New Zealand and the United States.
It has sophisticated cameras capable of detecting emissions from, for example, oil and gas pipelines and industrial agriculture.
Chris Jackson, the operations director at mission control at the University of Auckland, said it will have a wide range.
“The spacecraft itself has quite a unique sensor onboard, being able to detect, say, the global emissions,” Jackson said. “You know, it is a low Earth orbiting spacecraft. It will see the whole of the Earth fundamentally every day. We will have the opportunity to image any potential source of leaks from methane throughout the world and we don’t have to have permission to fly over certain territories or anything like that. We can really see what is happening and provide that information to global organizations that can combat it.”
Other satellites are already monitoring methane emissions, but officials in New Zealand say their craft will have “unprecedented accuracy.”
MethaneSAT is being built in the United States, where it is expected to be launched next year into an orbit about 600 kilometers above Earth.
Data from the mission will be sent to the Environmental Defense Fund, a New York-based advocacy group.
The group is working with scientists at Harvard University, where the methane-detecting techniques were developed.