EDF MethaneSAT Program Adds Top Technical Talent as Groundbreaking Climate Mission Advances to Contracting Phase

Advisors bring unparalleled expertise in space-based instruments, methane science; new teams will help shape satellite’s design and capabilities

December 13, 2018
Jon Coifman, (212) 616-1325, jcoifman@edf.org

(NEW YORK, NY) Two of the space industry’s most seasoned experts have signed on to help Environmental Defense Fund usher its MethaneSAT program through the crucial next stages. The two will be joined by one of Silicon Valley’s most successful innovator/ entrepreneurs. Together, they will help establish and maintain the highest scientific and technical standards as the satellite project prepares to issue contracts for the next phase of development, in which key technology choices will be determined.  

  • Dr. Dan McCleese, former Chief Scientist and Director of the Innovation Foundry at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a principal architect of the agency’s Mars Exploration Program will lead the project’s Science Advisory Group, consisting of top atmospheric scientists providing guidance on MethaneSAT’s advanced methane measurement capabilities. 
  • Joe Rothenberg, former Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Director of Engineering and Operations for Google’s Terra Bella, will head up the MethaneSAT Technical Advisory Group, focused on design and fabrication of the overall MethaneSAT system.
  • Tony Fadell, iPod inventor, iPhone co-inventor, founder of Nest, and principal at Future Shape, is coming aboard with an eye on user interface and engagement, as well as long-range strategy for MethaneSAT.

“These are the most seasoned leaders you could bring to a complex endeavor like this one,” said Tom Ingersoll, project director for MethaneSAT and himself a satellite entrepreneur with over 30 years’ experience. “They’ve blazed trails and broken ground, and they know how leading-edge technological ventures work. It’s exactly the team we want helping guide the MethaneSAT program.”

Mission to Protect the Climate

Announced in April, MethaneSAT is designed to map and measure emissions of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – virtually anywhere on Earth. Human-made methane emissions from oil and gas, agriculture, and other sources are responsible for more than 25 percent of the warming the world is experiencing today.

“MethaneSAT will provide a unique set of capabilities,” said EDF Chief Scientist Dr. Steven Hamburg. “With a wide field of view and low detection threshold, it will quantify emissions other efforts have been unable to detect, filling a gap between other systems. And MethaneSAT will provide worldwide coverage at regular intervals, surveying targeted regions around the globe roughly every four days.”

Swift Progress

To meet demanding performance requirements, MethaneSAT is using the latest scientific and technological innovations in sensor design, spectroscopy, data retrieval algorithms and flux inversions, a state-of-the-art modeling technique to distinguish emissions from ambient methane and trace them back to their source.

The principal scientific investigator on MethaneSAT is Dr. Steven C. Wofsy, Abbott Lawrence Rotch Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Science at Harvard University. He and EDF worked with a team from Harvard and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to establish core mission requirements, design selections and launch schedule.

After discussions with nearly two dozen potential contractors, EDF is preparing to announce competitive development contracts for Phase B, which will end with selection of a single vendor that will build the satellite, including the methane-sensing instrument at the heart of the system.

Curbing Methane Emissions

Data from MethaneSAT will be available at no cost, helping both companies and countries identify emission sources, see opportunities to reduce them and track those reductions over time.

“When it comes to reducing climate change, speed and scale are the essential,” said Mark Brownstein, EDF Senior Vice President of Energy. “Manmade methane emissions are responsible for a quarter of the warming our planet is experiencing today. Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry is the fastest, most cost-effective way we have to slow the rate of warming now. It’s not a substitute for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, but necessary alongside those efforts.

EDF’s goal is to reduce global oil and gas methane emissions 45 percent by 2025. This would deliver the same 20-year benefit to the climate as closing 1,300 coal-fired power plants — one-third of all the coal plants in the world.

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