California plans to launch a satellite to monitor pollution in the state and contribute to climatology, Governor Jerry Brown announced today. The state partnered with the satellite imagery provider Planet to create a tailor-made device to "locate – and stop – destructive emissions with unprecedented accuracy, on a scale never reached before ".
Governor Brown made the announcement in the closing speech of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, echoing a promise made two years ago to scientists at the 2016 meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
"With science still under attack and the climate threat worsening, we are launching our own satellite," Brown said today.
Planet, which has launched hundreds of satellites in recent years to provide near real-time images of virtually anywhere on Earth, will develop and operate the satellite. It is planned to equip it with sensors able to detect pollutants at their point sources, whether they are artificial or natural. This type of direct observation allows direct action.
The technical details of the satellite must be announced as the project is consolidated. We can probably expect something like a 6U CubeSat with instruments focused on the detection of certain gases and particles. An orbit with the satellite passing through the entire state along its north / south axis seems most likely; a single machine sitting in one place would not likely provide adequate coverage. That said, several satellites are also a declared possibility.
"These satellite technologies are part of a new era of environmental innovation that surpasses our ability to solve problems," said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. "They will not reduce the emissions themselves, but they will make visible invisible pollution and generate transparent, actionable and necessary data to protect our health, our environment and our economies."
EDF launches its own satellite for this purpose ( MethaneSAT ), but will also work with California to create a shared partnership on climate data to ensure that data from these platforms forms are widely accessible. .
More partners are expected, now that the project is public, but none has been cited in the press release or in response to my questions on the subject addressed to Planet. Funding is also an open question.
The effort is still far from over – these things take time – but Planet's certainly shown being able to design and launch over a relatively short period. In fact, it has just opened a brand new facility in San Francisco dedicated to pumping new satellites.