On March 4, SpaceX launched the Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base one hour away from UC Santa Barbara. On board the rocket was Vandenberg Space Force Base, a satellite capable of mapping methane emissions across the globe. The satellite was launched from SpaceX’s 10th transporter mission. It is a rideshare program that allows governmental or private entities to launch payloads into space via Falcon 9. 

MethaneSAT is a project not affiliated with SpaceX but is envisioned and born from a collaboration between cross-disciplinary fields of the sciences; the principal lead of this mission, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), brought in partners from academia, private technology companies, space agencies, and philanthropic organizations to make MethaneSAT a reality. 

The Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Harvard John A/ Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences were also involved in MethaneSAT’s technical strategy planning stage. They completed the final protocols and set up the official launch date for MethaneSAT. BAE Systems, a private aerospace company, developed the spectrometer instrument on MethaneSAT, a key component of the satellite that is responsible for methane measurement. The fully equipped satellite is then carried using Blue Cayon’s spacecraft bus called the X-SAT. 

The New Zealand Space Agency brought in remote sensing technology specific to capturing agricultural emissions, and they operate MethaneSAT’s Control Center that monitors the satellite currently in orbit. Google will be providing computing capacities for MethaneSAT’s data transfer and storage. 

Aside from carbon dioxide,methane is the second biggest contributor to global warming but has a much shorter lifespan than carbon dioxide. The motivation behind MethaneSAT is that cutting down methane’s production brings more immediate results within the next decades. 

MethaneSAT’s mission is to collect data on methane emissions and transfer these data into information useful for policy decision making. MethaneSAT is not the first methane measuring satellite in the world, but its ability to determine a large area’s methane level and detect methane concentrations on specific pinpoints confirms its potential to collect a wide range of promising data. 

This data will also be made public to incentivize private sectors and companies to cut down their emissions on methane or look for more sustainable practices. 

Some of the main features on the satellite include an infrared sensor and spectrometer that allows MethaneSAT to take high resolution measurements on methane emissions while in orbit.  

Before the satellite launch, the team developed MethaneAIR. This project was used as a test model for MethaneSAT; methane measurement devices were installed onto a jet aircraft instead of a satellite. The feedback from these test flights were used in instrument revisions and strategic plannings for MethaneSAT. This project successfully mapped out methane emissions from the Uinta and Permian Basins. The data is available via Google Earth Engine. The aircraft used for this mission is provided and developed by IO Aerospace. 

MethaneSAT is currently in orbit to fulfill its mission of data collection, and the data will be sent back to Earth later this year. It is unknown whether the EDF has future plans for MethaneSAT as it continues its journey in space. Nonetheless, the data MethaneSAT is collecting will be a valuable addition to the scientific community.