Long Beach-based launch and space systems company Rocket Lab has been selected to develop a mission operations control center for a collaborative satellite mission meant to monitor and help curb emissions, the company announced Thursday.
Once in orbit, the MethaneSAT—a 350 kilogram class satellite—will locate and measure methane from the oil, gas and agricultural industries around the world. The program will enable regulators, businesses and researchers to track and reduce emissions faster, according to the announcement.
Rocket lab will develop, manage and operate mission control for the project in Auckland, New Zealand, where one of the company’s launch sites already exists. The center is part of the New Zealand government’s NZD$26 million commitment to the international program.
“The ability to detect and measure gas leaks from space will undoubtedly change the way climate change is understood and managed,” Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck said in a statement. “This is an internationally significant mission that can help alleviate modern society’s impact on Earth in a big way, and we’re thrilled to be able to play our part in helping to mitigate climate change through MethaneSAT.”
The MethaneSAT team consists of experts from numerous public and private aerospace organizations as well as researchers from Harvard University and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which are developing the data acquisition and analytical capabilities.
With the non-profit Environmental Defense Fund leading the program, MethaneSAT’s highly sensitive spectrometer is capable of detecting methane concentrations as low as two parts per billion. The satellite will quantify and report emissions in near real-time from sources, providing regular monitoring of regions that account for more than 80% of global oil and gas production, the company said.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas responsible for at least a quarter of today’s planetary warming, the company noted. Data will be published for free for stakeholders and the public to compare progress by companies and countries.
The Long Beach company will deliver the IT and software infrastructure required to task the satellite on orbit, including tracking, pointing and positioning, and collision avoidance. The firm also will manage the collection and dissemination of climate change data generated by the MethaneSAT program.
Rocket Lab will manage mission operations for 12 months, after which time the company will continue providing support by training New Zealand’s future space operators and scientists in mission management and satellite operations.
The facility is slated to be functional by mid-2022 ahead of on-obrit operations that are scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter that year.