The Vanguard satellite, developed by GHGSat, has successfully reached orbit and is set to revolutionize the detection of carbon emissions from space. Unlike previous satellites, Vanguard has the ability to detect emissions from individual coal and gas-fired power plants, oil refineries, steel plants, and other industrial facilities. This innovative satellite, along with two new methane-monitoring satellites from the GHGSat constellation, was launched on SpaceX’s Transporter 9 rideshare mission on November 11.
Operating at an altitude of 300 miles, Vanguard will capture images of every spot on Earth every two weeks. It utilizes a novel instrument called the Wide Angle Fabry–Pérot Interferometer, invented by GHGSat, which has been successfully used to monitor methane emissions. This instrument has now been retrained to detect and quantify emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas.
The instrument detects the presence of greenhouse gases by analyzing the unique light absorption pattern of the air column above each spot on Earth. By analyzing these measurements, researchers can identify the presence and quantity of specific gases. Vanguard’s ability to detect carbon emissions on a daily basis will provide invaluable data that was previously difficult to obtain due to the higher overall concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere compared to methane.
With a field of view of 12 by 12 kilometers, Vanguard can quantify the concentration of carbon dioxide in every pixel, enabling the identification of high concentrations and potential emission sources. By comparing this data with visual images, researchers can pinpoint each individual source of carbon emissions.
While GHGSat’s methane-monitoring capabilities have been in high demand, experts predict that the demand for space-based carbon dioxide measurements may be lower due to the already known sources of carbon emissions. However, GHGSat aims to verify existing estimates and provide independent validation for countries’ self-reported carbon emissions.
GHGSat currently operates a fleet of nine methane-monitoring satellites and sells its data to oil and gas companies and government regulators. The new satellite is expected to be utilized primarily by regulators to validate reported emissions and monitor polluters worldwide. This breakthrough technology will play a vital role in tracking and reducing carbon emissions and addressing the urgent issue of climate change.