A tiny, Canadian satellite the size of a microwave oven that will keep a beady eye on industrial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has been delivered into orbit this week by an Indian space agency rocket.
Building on research and development by several national space agencies, the ‘nanosatellite’ nicknamed Claire was tested over the last two years by a private company, Montreal-based GHGSat. The firm invented a new type of sensor that can make these measurements from a small satellite, making Claire the world’s first satellite capable of remotely sensing GHGs from industrial sites.
Claire is to orbit the planet daily, travelling at around 7 km per second, taking measurements from some 1000 sites per year, from Canada’s oil sands to Chinese coal mines. It will monitor for the two main GHGs, carbon dioxide and methane, meaning that it can also look for leaks from natural gas projects, methane escaping from landfills and hydroelectric reservoirs, and even rice paddies.
The satellite’s instrumentation takes advantage of the fact that different types of gases absorb light in the visible spectrum at different, unique wavelengths, a sort of spectral ‘fingerprint’ for each gas. Claire use sunlight to measure the brightness of these fingerprints at industrial sites to assess how much of each gas is present in the surrounding area.
This sounds great, but how is the company going to make any money from a satellite that spies on industry? In an era of climate change regulation of companies, emissions trading and carbon taxes, companies need to know how much greenhouse gas they are emitting, both to help them reduce emissions and to offer guarantees when trading offsets and emissions credits. The nanosatellite is relatively low-cost, which will allow the firm to offer its services at much lower prices than existing emissions monitoring services, reducing the reporting costs for the target companies.
The company will initially use the satellite to deliver real-time information to companies and utilities in the oil, gas, mining, power generation, agriculture and waste management sectors, which together produce some 50 percent of all GHG emissions globally.
Claire will operate for five years before burning up in the atmosphere, but the company hopes that it will validate the concept of satellite remote sensing of GHG emissions, and then launch additional satellites targeting other industrial sites and sectors.
[Source: Robyn Cubie, Senior Communications Officer, Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions]