Mission control centre for methane-measuring satellite venture to be based in NZ

New Zealand has joined its first official space mission as a country to combat climate change and the mission control centre will be located in New Zealand.

The Government will contribute $26 million towards MethaneSAT, a state-of-the-art satellite designed to detect global methane emissions with unprecedented accuracy.

The mission is being led by a United States-based non-government organisation, Environmental Defense Fund, and its subsidiary, MethaneSAT LLC, which have signed a partnership agreement with New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

While EDF and MethaneSAT are initially focused on collecting data about methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, New Zealand intends working with EDF to consider how the data might be used to investigate and potentially lead an atmospheric science component of the mission related to agricultural methane emissions.

Announcing that Mission Control for the international space mission will be based in New Zealand and the Government’s $26 million investment towards the state-of-the-art satellite, Research, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Megan Woods said MethaneSAT is designed to locate and measure methane from human sources worldwide.  This will provide the data to track and reduce those emissions.

“This is an ambitious science partnership between New Zealand and the Environmental Defense Fund that will see New Zealand at the forefront of developing and applying world-leading technology to the global challenge of managing greenhouse gas emissions,” Megan Woods said.

“This investment will build important capability in our rapidly growing space sector and put New Zealand at the global frontier of science and innovation by building partnerships with world-leading atmospheric scientists.

“Climate change is a complex, global issue that this Government is committed to addressing. We are delivering on that commitment through this Space mission.”

Dr Woods noted that the methane satellite is yet another step towards achieving the Government’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, following significant investments this year, including:

  • $8.5 million in the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases to reduce and mitigate agricultural emissions, and
  • $25 million for the Agricultural Climate Change Research Platform to support New Zealand research to help agriculture deal with the effects of climate change

“While the Environmental Defense Fund’s initial priority for the mission is to collect emissions data from the oil and gas industry, we will investigate the possibility of New Zealand using the data to lead an agricultural science component of the mission,” Megan Woods said.

Dr Peter Crabtree, GM of Science, Innovation and International at MBIE and head of the New Zealand Space Agency, described MethaneSAT as exactly the kind of science that New Zealand should be investing in.

“This investment has three key benefits for New Zealand – we are showing global leadership by investing in a science mission that will directly help to fight climate change, we are giving Kiwi researchers the opportunity to join a cutting-edge climate science mission that will see them working alongside the world’s best climate scientists and aerospace experts, and we are building important capability in our rapidly growing space sector,” Dr Crabtree said.

“New Zealand already makes significant investments in climate science and in research to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions. We will be building on these efforts by working with EDF, which has a proven track record in conducting excellent science to inform decision making.”

EDF Chief Executive Fred Krupp says that the New Zealand Government is an ideal mission partner because both parties share values which underpin the mission’s purpose.

“Environmental Defense Fund is a highly professional organisation with a proven track record in conducting excellent science to inform evidence-based decision making by governments and industry,” Mr Krupp said.

“We share values related to environmental leadership, transparency, accountability, and a commitment to performing excellent research.”

MethaneSAT is scheduled to launch in 2022.

The MBIE and EDS will confirm the location of the New Zealand-based mission control centre and New Zealand’s role in the launch and the science components of the mission in coming months.

Sources:  Minister of Research, Science and Information and MBIE

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