The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has developed a state-of-the-art imaging spectrometer designed to measure the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide from space. This instrument has taken a step closer to launch after being delivered to Planet Labs PBC in San Francisco.
The imaging spectrometer is part of the Carbon Mapper initiative led by the non-profit organization Carbon Mapper. It will enable the organization to locate and measure the sources of methane and carbon dioxide, specifically focusing on “super emitters” that are responsible for a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The Carbon Mapper coalition, consisting of Carbon Mapper, JPL, Planet, the California Air Resources Board, the Rocky Mountain Institute, Arizona State University, and the University of Arizona, is working on this public-private effort to gather data on greenhouse gas emissions.
The imaging spectrometer works by measuring the wavelengths of light reflected by the Earth’s surface and absorbed by gases in the atmosphere. Different gases absorb different wavelengths of light, creating a unique spectral “fingerprint” that the imaging spectrometer can identify. This allows for precise measurement and quantification of greenhouse gas emissions.
Before being integrated into the Planet-designed Tanager satellite, the spectrometer underwent rigorous testing at JPL to ensure its resilience in the extreme conditions of space. Successful tests included subjecting the spectrometer to intense vibrations and extreme temperatures. A methane sample was also used to test the complete instrument inside a vacuum chamber, producing a clear spectral fingerprint of the gas.
The launch of the satellite, with the integrated imaging spectrometer, is scheduled for early 2024. The Carbon Mapper initiative aims to utilize the data collected by this instrument, along with other existing instruments such as NASA’s Earth Mineral Dust Investigation spectroMeter (EMIT) on the International Space Station, to conduct a comprehensive study of point-source greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
This collaboration between government, philanthropy, and industry is an example of how innovative approaches can lead to exceptional capabilities with the potential to have a global impact.
– Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) – Glossary