A commercial satellite will see super emitters of CO2

Satellites works of art

Artwork: GHGSat flies the highest resolution methane sensors into orbit

The world’s first commercial satellite dedicated to monitoring carbon dioxide will be launched from orbit later this year.

The Canadian company will send GHGSat, which it already flies spacecraft to track methane emissions.

The new platform will use the same short-wave infrared sensor but will be tuned to a CO2 light signature in the atmosphere.

The satellite will have a resolution of 25m at ground level, meaning it will be able to see large individual sources.

“We expect to see things like refineries, steel mills, aluminum smelters, cement plants, and, of course, thermal power stations,” Stephane Germain, CEO at GHGSat, told BBC News.

There are already several national space agency missions that track CO2. NASA, for example, flies its Orbiting Carbon Observatories; Japan runs its GoSat mission; and China has TanSat.

But these usually map large areas of atmospheric carbon dioxide variations; they are not really set up to compete with super emitters on the scale of a single industrial complex.

CO2 map

Higher concentrations (red) of CO2 in the atmosphere have already been mapped by satellite on a wide scale

To monitor CO2, the GHGSat sensor will need to operate at a higher detection threshold than for Methane.

CH4 is a much smaller component of air – about 1.9 molecules in every million, compared to 418 for carbon dioxide – making it much easier to see a methane spike above the normal background.

GHGSat-C10, as the new satellite will be called, will focus on a detection threshold of one megaton per year.

“It’s not as if we need to find the big CO2 emitters; we already know where they are,” said Dr Germain. “Unlike methane, which is fugitive – it shows up in places and sometimes you don’t necessarily expect it – we know where the big power plants are in the world; we know where the aluminum smelters are. So, it’s more about being involved in this. able to verify emissions.”

GHGSat hopes to sell its data to governments and financial services markets. The information will be used to check emissions estimates.

Modern plants are likely to have continuous emission monitoring systems implemented, possibly in flue gas stacks. But these operations may even require independent observations from time to time.

And under the Paris Climate Agreement, countries must compile CO2 inventories. The GHGSat data could help with international comparisons.

“We’ll see how we get on but our aim is to launch some carbon dioxide satellites,” said Dr Germain.

“Ultimately, we want at least monthly coverage of every major source of CO2 in the world, and maybe even weekly coverage of every source in the world.”

Methane levels

GHGSat has built its business on monitoring methane at the scale of an individual industrial facility

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