The world’s first commercial satellite dedicated to monitoring carbon dioxide from orbit will launch later this year.
It will be installed by the Canadian company GHGSat, which already flies six spacecraft that track methane emissions.
The new platform will use the same shortwave infrared sensor, but will tune to the specific light signature of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The satellite will have a ground-level resolution of 25m, which means it will be able to see individual major sources.
“We expect to see things like refineries, steel mills, aluminum smelters, cement plants and of course thermal power plants,” Stephane Germain, chief executive of GHGSat, told BBC News.
There are already several national space agency missions tracking CO2. NASA, for example, flies its Orbiting Carbon Observatories; Japan Executes Its GoSat Mission; and China has TanSat.
But these generally map large-area variations in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; they’re not really set up to target super-emitters at the scale of an individual industrial complex.
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 a 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 known, will target a detection threshold of one megatonne per year.
“It’s not like we have to find the big CO2 emitters; we already know where they are,” Dr. Germain said. “Unlike methane, which is fugitive, shows up in places and at times that you don’t necessarily expect, we know where the big power plants are in the world, we know where the aluminum smelters are. So this is more about being able to check emissions.
GHGSat hopes to sell its data to governments and financial services markets. The information will be used to verify emissions estimates.
Modern plants likely have implemented continuous emissions monitoring systems, perhaps in flue gas stacks. But even these operations may require occasional independent observations.
And under the Paris Climate Agreement, countries must compile CO2 inventories. The GHGSat data could help with international comparisons.
“We’ll see how it goes, but we have aspirations to launch several more carbon dioxide satellites,” said Dr. Germain.
“Ultimately, we’d like to get to at least monthly coverage of every major source of CO2 in the world, and potentially even weekly coverage of every source in the world.”