EDF Signs Design Contracts with Two Satellite Companies to Determine Which Will Build New Methane Mapping Satellite

Ball Aerospace and Maxar’s SSL will be vying for opportunity to construct MethaneSAT

January 10, 2019
Jon Coifman, (212) 616-1325, jcoifman@edf.org

(NEW YORK) Environmental Defense Fund announced today that it has signed contracts with two leading aerospace companies that will compete for the opportunity to build EDF’s MethaneSAT. Over the next several months, EDF will work with Ball Aerospace and SSL, a Maxar Technologies company, to refine designs and program plans to meet the performance, cost and scheduling requirements of the MethaneSAT project. EDF will then choose one mission partner to build the satellite, including the methane-measuring instrument at the heart of the unique mission.

The decision to move forward with Ball and SSL comes after discussions with nearly two dozen prospective providers. Each of the selected firms offers unique capabilities. The contracts, totaling $1.5 million, are a key milestone for MethaneSAT, which will quantify and map heat-trapping methane emissions from oil and gas facilities and other man-made sources around the globe. Announced last April, MethaneSAT is scheduled to launch in 2021.

“We’ve had the opportunity to work with the some of the most capable companies in the space industry,” said Tom Ingersoll, project director for MethaneSAT and himself a satellite entrepreneur with over 30 years’ experience. “Ball and SSL are the two we feel are best positioned to make this challenging mission a success.”

Competitive Challenge

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. Choosing the right vendor to build it is mission-critical.

Ball Aerospace creates innovative space solutions, enables more accurate weather forecasts, drives insightful observations of our planet and delivers actionable data and intelligence for government and commercial customers. The data captured through Ball-built instruments and satellites facilitates an enhanced scientific understanding of major sustainability challenges, and has allowed governments, industry and other stakeholders to effectively address these challenges over the past 60 years.

SSL, a Maxar Technologies company, provides satellites and spacecraft systems that connect, protect and inform the world. A Silicon Valley innovator for more than 60 years, their product line includes satellites for video broadcast, communications, Earth observation and remote sensing as well as spacecraft systems and robotics for exploration. SSL leverages Maxar’s broad space systems expertise to provide complete solutions and will engage the expertise of sister company DigitalGlobe in developing MethaneSAT.

The competing proposals will be evaluated and the winning vendor chosen by EDF experts working together with seasoned advisors. These include Dr. Dan McCleese, former Chief Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who leads the project’s Science Advisory Group, and Joe Rothenberg, former Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Director of Engineering and Operations for Google’s Terra Bella, who heads up the Technical Advisory Group.

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.

Along with Ingersoll, the in-house MethaneSAT team includes EDF Chief Scientist Dr. Steven Hamburg, and Mark Brownstein, Senior Vice President of the EDF energy program, and remote sensing expert Dr. Ritesh Gautam.

EDF brings a deep understanding to the challenges of quantifying methane emissions and mapping those emissions through its role as organizer of an unprecedented series of ground-based and airborne studies examining emissions across the U.S. oil and gas supply chain that involved more than 140 researchers from 40 institutions in cooperation with 50 oil and gas companies.

Crucial Climate Challenge

The October 2018 report by International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirms that our climate is changing even faster than anticipated, requiring dramatic action now to prevent the most catastrophic effects. Human-made methane emissions are responsible for more than a quarter of the warming we experience today, and are a crucial part of the solution; reducing them is one of the fastest, most cost-effective ways to slow the warming rate while we continue to decarbonize the economy.

“MethaneSAT is the single most audacious effort we’ve ever undertaken at EDF, in keeping with the scale and scope of this crucial opportunity,” said Brownstein “Significant reductions in oil and gas methane emissions now can materially lower the rate of global temperature rise in our lifetime. MethaneSAT will give us the data we need to seize this moment.”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. 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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