MethaneSAT Adds Jet Aircraft to Methane Measurement Arsenal

New airborne instrument will track methane across North America ahead of 2024 satellite launch, providing first comprehensive tally of emissions from both large and small sources

June 26, 2023
Jon Coifman, (917) 575-1885 or
Matt McGee, (281) 253-7002 or

(NEW YORK ) MethaneSAT LLC today announced deployment of its groundbreaking methane measurement technology aboard a specially equipped jet aircraft that will locate, measure and track methane from oil and gas operations and other sectors across North America. The new MethaneAIR program will inform and augment orbital data collection by MethaneSAT, scheduled to launch in early 2024.

Methane from fossil fuel operations, agriculture and other industries causes roughly 30% of today's global warming. MethaneAIR and MethaneSAT are designed to help both industry and regulators achieve faster, more effective reductions in emissions of this critical greenhouse pollutant. Aircraft and satellite data will be available at no cost, enabling stakeholders to see and compare the results over time.

See photos and video of MethaneAIR in action here.

The highly sensitive instruments will see emissions at a regional scale that others can’t, making it possible for the first time to determine total methane emissions over wide areas, including detailed maps of both large sources and countless smaller ones even where those emissions are low. Research suggests these diffuse sources account for a large share of total methane emissions.

“Cutting methane pollution is the fastest, most effective way there is to slow the rate of warming. Our instruments are helping to unlock that opportunity,” said MethaneSAT project lead Steven Hamburg.  “Frequent high-precision measurements will give companies, regulators and the public actionable new insights to cut methane emissions faster.”

You can read the recent New Yorker profile of the MethaneSAT mission here.

Imaging spectrometers aboard MethaneAIR and MethaneSAT will measure methane in the atmosphere over large areas with unparalleled sensitivity, accurately tracking changes in atmospheric concentrations as small as three parts per billion. Automated analytics developed by MethaneSAT will track emissions back to their source, regardless of size.

MethaneAIR flights will initially focus on oil and gas facilities, including the Denver-Julesburg basin in Colorado; the Haynesville Shale in East Texas and Louisiana; and the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico. Operating from local airports, flights will map and quantify emissions from target regions encompassing roughly 80% of U.S. onshore production. Initial plans include more than 50 flights from now through fall, 2023.

“The data is meant to both enable and motivate action,” said Jon Goldstein, senior director of regulatory & legislative affairs at the non-profit Environmental Defense Fund, which created the MethaneSAT mission in 2018. “We are working directly with oil and gas operators, state and national governments, and organizations like the International Energy Agency to actively catalyze better, more effective reduction of these emissions.”

MethaneAIR is designed to work in conjunction with MethaneSAT. The satellite is now in final testing and scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket early next year. Where MethaneAIR can cover 10 target areas measuring 10,000 square kilometers each month across North America, MethaneSAT will collect data from 30 targets a day worldwide, each measuring 40,000 square kilometers.

Data from MethaneAIR will start to become available later this summer after a rigorous quality control process. It will appear on a new MethaneSAT data platform in the fall. Like MethaneSAT, MethaneAIR will also measure emissions from agriculture, landfills and other sources.

MethaneAIR was developed jointly by MethaneSAT, EDF, Harvard University and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. The leased aircraft was adapted and operated by IO Aerospace.

Retired from a private operator, the newly modified Lear 35 is the first jet aircraft tasked to measure methane full-time. The refit includes extended fuel tanks and special aft fins for improved stability. It carries two pilots and a technician, with space for one additional crew member. Operating at about 40,000 feet, above most commercial traffic, flights will last five to six hours.

As it does across its global operations, MethaneSAT parent EDF will determine the greenhouse gas emissions associated with each flight, offsetting them through private sector investment in high-integrity emission reduction projects.

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MethaneSAT, LLC is a subsidiary of Environmental Defense Fund, Incorporated, a leading international nonprofit organization. EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships to create transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. Follow us on Twitter at @MethaneSAT, or connect with us at Copyright © 2023 MethaneSAT, LLC. All Rights Reserved.