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3 mins read 06 Nov 2019

NZ Government funding $26M satellite to track global methane sources

The New Zealand Government is funding a $26 million satellite project that will be able to track and measure global methane sources produced by humans, helping tackle climate change.

Artist illustration of MethaneSat scanning the Earth. Credit: New Zealand Government.

A new $26 million mission control centre and satellite will be developed by New Zealand, to track the greenhouse gas, Methane as an additional pillar to the country's strong commitment on tackling climate change. 

Announced by Research, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Megan Woods, the MethaneSAT (satellite) will be designed to locate and measure methane from human sources worldwide, which will provide the data to track and reduce those emissions. A new agreement has been signed off by the New Zealand Government with confirmation that the mission control centre will be located in the country. 

A key feature of the agreement that has been signed is that the mission control centre will be located in New Zealand.

“This is an ambitious science partnership between New Zealand and the Environmental Defense Fund that will see New Zealand at the forefront of developing and applying world-leading technology to the global challenge of managing greenhouse gas emissions,” Minister Woods said.

“This investment will build important capability in our rapidly growing space sector and put New Zealand at the global frontier of science and innovation by building partnerships with world-leading atmospheric scientists."

Space and Atmospheric industry experts from across New Zealand's growing space sector have welcomed the announcement.

“MethaneSat is the most exciting greenhouse gas detecting satellite planned in the near future because it has tremendous potential to directly support emissions reductions. The primary goal of the satellite is to detect methane that is accidentally leaked into the atmosphere from oil and natural gas production, processing, and transportation. Fixing these leaks is usually economically beneficial and therefore companies are doubly motivated to address them, both for the environment and for their own bottom line." said Dr. Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher, an Atmosphere-Ocean scientist from NIWA. 

Upon hearing about the announcement, the University of Auckland's Head of Physics, Professor Richard Easther also expressed the benefits to the growing NZ space ecosystem.

“This is an enormously exciting announcement'" he said. 

“Maybe just as importantly, this mission is also what will hopefully be the first of a number of contributions New Zealand can make to major international space science projects, as a consequence of New Zealand’s growing space capability.

“Whilst people imagine that space is all about satellites and rockets, in fact, the trillion-dollar space industry largely involves activities on the ground. Having satellite mission control in New Zealand is an obvious example of that. This will also be inspirational for younger people as it shows them you don’t have to move elsewhere to be directly involved in space research." said Dr. Duncan Steele, who is a Principal Research Scientist for Xerra Earth Observation Institute. 

MethaneSAT is scheduled to launch in 2022. Both the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in addition to the Environmental Defense Fund will confirm the location of the New Zealand-based mission control centre and New Zealand’s role in the launch and the science components of the mission in coming months.