LIVE: A new frontier in the climate fight

Follow the latest updates on MethaneSAT, an innovative climate satellite.

MethaneSAT, a unique satellite created by an environmental nonprofit to fight global warming, is gearing up for launch in March 2024. 

Traveling pole-to-pole in under 100 minutes, MethaneSAT will circle the globe, scanning for climate pollution that was previously invisible. 

We’re tracking the progress of this groundbreaking satellite as it embarks on its mission to cut climate pollution. 

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Latest updates

Live updates

 

Feb. 23 Bill Nye talks methane

The launch of MethaneSAT is just weeks away, and we’re not the only ones excited. Check out what Bill Nye the Science Guy has to say about methane pollution and this new, high-tech tool in the climate fight. “MethaneSAT will help hold polluters accountable,” says the popular science educator, who — little known fact —  once worked in an oilfield in west Texas. 

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Feb. 21: Company fined for huge methane leak detected by satellites

Scientists using data from multiple satellites have located and measured an unusually large methane leak in Kazakhstan. The oil and gas company responsible for that climate-harming leak, which went on for six months in 2023, will be fined approximately $774,000, according to the BBC.

Satellites are often the only way to document methane pollution in remote areas like this. Soon, MethaneSAT will make that view from space even more detailed. In addition to major disruptions like this one, which are relatively rare, MethaneSAT will locate and measure millions of smaller leaks that are responsible for the bulk of the methane problem.

“We’re effectively putting on a really high-quality set of glasses, allowing us to look at the Earth and these emissions with a sharpness that we’ve never had before,” says Steve Hamburg, chief scientist and MethaneSAT project lead at EDF.

 

Feb. 20: Dress rehearsals

It’s almost showtime! While the satellite sits tight behind the curtain at Vandenberg, MethaneSAT and partners Ball Aerospace and RocketLab have been practicing behind the scenes, running three marathon 12-hour-long rehearsals to simulate the satellite commissioning process — the sequence of events that happens in mission control after MethaneSAT enters space and boots up.

“We need to make sure we’re sending the correct commands, and that the spacecraft is executing them correctly,” says MethaneSAT’s Peter Vedder. “It’s training for the operations team, making sure we’re prepared for any issues — so that we know which buttons to press and who to call.”

A group of scientists sitting at computers
(Ball Aerospace)
 
 

Feb. 16 : Flying colors

MethaneSAT project director Ed Irvin just shared some good news — MethaneSAT has successfully completed its pre-launch testing at Vandenburg. “Basically, the satellite has been checked out, tested, closed out and provided to SpaceX,” said Irvin. “We're really thrilled to be at this point.”

Soon, Space X will bolt MethaneSAT into its position on the Falcon 9 rocket. For this mission, the 20-story tall rocket will be functioning like a space school bus — it’s expected to drop off more than 50 satellites into low-earth orbit. MethaneSAT is likely to be one of the last kids off the bus. 

 

Feb. 16: New era of environmental accountability

MethaneSAT’s new partnership with Google will help spotlight climate-warming methane pollution — and hold polluters responsible.

In recent months, governments and major fossil fuel producers have announced a flurry of commitments to cut methane, the climate pollutant responsible for about 30% of the warming we’re feeling today. But will they actually get the job done? That’s where MethaneSAT comes in. Its data will reveal who’s walking the walk on cutting climate pollution. An independent partnership launched by EDF, the UN and others will be tracking and publicly reporting progress against those commitments, using data from MethaneSAT and other sources. 

 

Feb. 14: Google announces partnership with MethaneSAT

Here’s a relationship to celebrate on Valentine’s Day: MethaneSAT is teaming up with Google on a critical part of its climate mission — to deliver useful data on methane, quickly, to anyone, anywhere, so they can use it to cut pollution.

Google announced today that Google Cloud will provide the computing capabilities required to process and host MethaneSAT’s ground-breaking climate pollution data quickly and securely.

The company will also improve MethaneSAT’s ability to identify oil and gas infrastructure, including things like storage tanks or pipelines, from satellite imagery using AI — in much the same way it detects sidewalks and street signs for Google Maps. This enhanced capability will help the MethaneSAT team pinpoint the facilities responsible for methane pollution in a particular region, and drive action on the ground to stop leaks.

A Google Earth Engine map showing a satellite view mapping emissions

 

MethaneSAT data will also be integrated into Google Earth Engine, which will provide even broader access to the data for more users worldwide to take action, including governments, regulators, oil and gas companies and others. 

“Figuring out how to address methane emissions is one of the biggest climate challenges we face today,” said Yael Maguire, VP/GM for Geo Sustainability at Google. “We’re excited to share actionable information that is urgently needed to achieve real impact.”

 

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Feb. 12: Falcon 9 facts

Once MethaneSAT passes all its pre-flight checks at Vandenberg, it will be loaded onto a Space X Falcon 9 rocket, along with about 50 other satellites. SpaceX is planning to launch 144 flights to space this year, sending up a rocket roughly every other day. “It’s almost like an airline flight, it’s so routine,” says MethaneSAT’s Peter Vedder, who’s been managing space missions for decades. “But that doesn’t make it any less nerve-racking.”

Here are some fun facts about the Falcon 9:

  • The rocket is named for the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo’s starship in the movie series Star Wars.
  • The Falcon 9 is almost 230 feet tall — the height of a 20-story building.
  • Several parts of the rocket are reusable. The first stage is designed to land on a floating drone ship or a stationary platform on land for recovery.
  • One of SpaceX’s most-used Falcon 9s has been launched at least 16 times.
 Falcon 9 rocket standing vertical at Vandenberg Space Force Base
 The Falcon 9 rocket standing vertical at Vandenberg Space Force Base. (Creative Commons)
 

Feb. 9: Why methane is a climate threat

While MethaneSAT is getting unloaded and checked out at Vandenberg, let’s take a minute to brush up on 6 essential facts about methane. Methane is kind of like carbon dioxide's pesky younger sibling. It's often overlooked, but it can have a big impact in a short time. 

 

Feb. 7: Arrival at launch site confirmed

Some good news from rainy southern California — MethaneSAT has been successfully delivered to its launch site,  Vandenberg Space Force Base, about 25 miles north of Santa Barbara. The 100,000-acre base has about 16 launch facilities that are used by the military, government agencies like NASA and private contractors such as Space X.  MethaneSAT will be riding a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to space in early March. 

 

Feb. 6: On the move

How do you get a satellite from point A to point B without going to space? Very carefully. In this time-lapse video, MethaneSAT is preparing to move from a Ball Aerospace facility in Boulder, Colorado, to its launch site in California. The satellite is carefully cradled in a specialized protective container and loaded on a custom 18-wheeler equipped with climate control and extra shock absorbers.

Also in the truck: racks of computers, tools, equipment for launch, nitrogen cooling tanks and other gear. “It’s kind of like going on a camping trip,” explains Peter Vedder, Senior Director of Mission Systems at MethaneSAT. “You have to bring everything you think you might need for launch.”

(Ball Aerospace)

 

Feb. 6: A closer look

Here’s a look at the business end of MethaneSAT. It’s wrapped in white insulation, similar to an astronaut's space suit, to protect it from heat and cold. The protruding ovals are the “eyes” of its infrared spectrometers, which will be scanning the globe for methane pollution. The squares are two different types of radio antennae, X-band and S-band, for communicating back to Earth.

MethaneSAT sitting in a laboratory
(Ball Aerospace)
 

Feb. 5: Why is an environmental group launching a satellite?

While MethaneSAT prepares for launch, here's a look back to where it all started. Fred Krupp, president of the global nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, first announced MethaneSAT at a TED talk about climate change in 2018. “I've worked my whole career for a moment like this,” he said. “The moment when we can stop fighting headwinds and start to have the wind at our backs.”

 

Feb. 4: Getting ready to roll

Engineers get paneling ready on MethaneSAT
Engineers check MethaneSAT’s solar panels, which will be folded for launch and then unfurl in space. (Ball Aerospace)

MethaneSAT, a satellite uniquely equipped to fight global warming, recently underwent some final checks at a Ball Aerospace facility in Boulder, Colorado. Ball has developed instruments for the Hubble and James Webb space telescopes, among other pioneering space projects. The company has been working on MethaneSAT and its groundbreaking, high-precision methane sensor for nearly 6 years. “These are among the most sophisticated sensors Ball has built,” said Alberto Conti, VP and GM of Civil Space at Ball.

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