Montreal’s GHGSat Inc. has successfully launched its first satellite, named CLAIRE, to measure greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from industrial facilities around the world, aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle put into orbit by the Indian Space Research Organization in Sriharikota, India.
Weighing 15 kilograms and costing $10 million, CLAIRE is the world’s first GHG emissions monitoring satellite, which will be used to help industrial emitters in sectors like oil & gas, power generation, mining, waste management and agriculture measure, control and reduce their emissions.
“Today’s launch is a milestone for Canadian space technology and for human environmental responsibility. Until now, measuring GHG emissions from industrial facilities has often been difficult and costly. CLAIRE has the potential to offer consistent, objective greenhouse gas emissions measurements for everyone in the world,” said GHGSat president Stéphane Germain. “Now that our satellite is in orbit, we look forward to demonstrating and validating this exciting new technology.”
GHGSat’s sensor technology has been miniaturized in order to fit on the low-cost nanosatellite, and is equipped to produce measurements from an orbit 318 miles above the Earth at a resolution 400 times higher resolution than current satellites produce.
The launch is the culmination of three years of research and development by GHGSat, supported by Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), Boeing, LOOKNorth, the Canadian Space Agency, Suncor Energy, Hydro-Quebec, ExxonMobil subsidiary Imperial Oil, Shell, Canada National Resources Limited, and several other customers and suppliers.
“SDTC is proud to have supported GHGSat’s technology,” said SDTC president and CEO Leah Lawrence. “We are excited about the launch of the satellite and all the opportunity that it brings to reduce harmful emissions. We look forward to seeing the results that CLAIRE sends back to Earth.”
The oil companies supporting GHGSat are members of the 13-member Canada Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA).
Among the first project undertaken by CLAIRE will be to pinpoint methane and CO2 leak rates at two tailings ponds that store oil industry waste and also at a mine in Alberta.
The launch coincides with the government of Alberta’s aggressive Climate Leadership Plan, which plans to phase out the province’s 18 coal-fired power plants by 2030, put in place an economy-wide carbon tax of $20 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent starting in 2017, cap oil sands emissions at 100 million metric tons, and reduce its methane emissions from oil and gas operations by 45% by 2025.
Accurate monitoring will be key to ensuring that those targets are both meaningful and kept.
If successful, the GHGSat method could become the new industry standard for measuring emissions from all tar sands operations, and then perhaps be used to detect American GHG emitters such as natural gas, or fracking, operations.
If there’s enough demand from industry and government, GHGSat plans to add more satellites, with potential for the company to add up to 20 satellites within 10 years, which would allow for more consistent monitoring.
In December, GHGSat completed a series of thermal vacuum tests, designed to simulate temperature variations typical of low Earth orbit, as well as vibration tests to ensure that the satellite and its on-board equipment can survive launch.
GHGSat, a subsidiary of Xiphos Systems Corporation, designed and built their satellite at the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) over a two-year period in collaboration with MPB Communications Inc., with further assistance from Boeing, who provided systems engineering and space vehicle design advice.
CLAIRE was accompanied into orbit by a Canadian Department of National Defence project called the Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Microsatellite (M3MSat), built by COM DEV International, for ship detection and marine traffic management in Canadian waters.