Germany: The German Aerospace Center (DLR) reported that a Franco-German climate satellite is scheduled for launch in 2014. The climate mission Merlin (Methane Remote Sensing LiDAR Mission) will track down the greenhouse gas methane around the globe.
Merlin is a joint mission by DLR and the French space agency CNES. DLR is developing and building the methane LiDAR instrument. France is providing the satellite platform and mission control.
This Franco-German collaborative venture has one principal objective – to obtain more and higher-precision data on methane emissions. Methane and carbon dioxide both cause global warming, although the impact of methane is 25 times more powerful than of carbon dioxide. Now, at a time when there is much discussion about mankind being directly responsible for the rise in the emission of greenhouse gases, methane emission levels already far outstrip carbon dioxide. Since pre-industrial times, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has more than doubled, whereas the growth in carbon dioxide levels during the same period has been ‘only’ 30 per cent. Alongside carbon dioxide, methane is one of those gases for which the Kyoto Protocol stipulates that cuts must be achieved.
Methane LiDAR will work from space in exactly the same way as its helicopter-mounted counterpart. The instrument, developed jointly by DLR, ADLARES GmbH and E.ON Ruhrgas AG, transmits pulses of light towards Earth, and then receives the radiation that is reflected back from Earth’s surface, again in pulse form. Whenever one of these pulses encounters methane, its signal strength is reduced and the instrument detects this reduction. This is how the LiDAR on a helicopter is able to detect methane leaks from natural gas pipelines. Now, instead of testing a mere eight kilometres of pipeline per day, the CHARM system (CH4 Airborne Remote Monitoring) is able to inspect 50 kilometres an hour.
Instead of inspecting natural gas pipelines, the space-borne instrument will seek out both natural methane sources and man-made methane sources at a speed of 25,000 kilometres an hour. It will send its laser beam to and from Earth 50 times a second. “With the measured values, we can produce a world map showing atmospheric methane concentrations and also highlighting regional differences,” said Gerhard Ehret from the DLR Institute of Atmospheric Physics.
For three years, the satellite equipped with this methane LiDAR system will scan the atmosphere for methane content, day and night and even in the presence of light cloud cover. The cost of this mission is expected to be around Euro 120 million, to be shared between the two project partners, Germany and France.