Three new GHGSat microsatellites operational, doubling capacity

GHGSat-C3 (“Luca”), C4 (“Penny”), and C5 (“Diako”) microsatellites. Credit: GHGSat.

GHGSat announced Thursday that they’re been able to speed up the deployment and operationalization of their satellites, doubling their capacity in “record time.”

The Montreal-based company uses hyperspectral imaging microsatellites to monitor methane emissions, and said that their new satellites have allowed them to hit a new milestone with over 100 methane emission event detections since the new satellites’ launch in May. 

GHGSat’s technology lets them use a patented sensor from fellow Montreal company ABB Canada to track methane emissions from space. The satellites use hyperspectral imaging to take images of potential emissions sources at a variety of wavelengths invisible to the naked eye. 

Sevana Jinbachian, GHGSat Communications and Events Specialist, said that after the images are transmitted to Earth, the company uses its “big data infrastructure” to process the huge hyperspectral images, using machine learning algorithms to analyze the data and generate “valuable information products for its customers,” including detailed models of methane emissions. Even small emissions, like leaks in pipelines, can be caught by GHGSat’s technology. 

The payloads are built by GHGSat, while the actual satellites are integrated at Space Flight Laboratory in Toronto, which also handles the launch logistics and works with GHGSat to manage in-flight operation.

Previous coverage from SpaceQ has gone into detail about GHGSat’s growing national profile: how they’ve received support from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, from the Canadian Space Agency, as well as from STDC. They’ve also received funding from a growing number of private-sector investors across several rounds of funding. Their total funding, according to Crunchbase, is over $103M.

They launched their first microsatellite, GHGSat-D (Claire), a demonstration satellite in 2016. Then they launched GHGSat-C1 (Iris) in 2019 followed in 2020 by GHGSat-C2 (Hugo). They launched their most recent set of satellites this past May: GHGSat-C3 (“Luca”), C4 (“Penny”), and C5 (“Diako”), bringing their total constellation up to six. 

Jinbachian said that the new satellites capabilities are roughly the same as the previous ones, with the biggest difference being the inclusion of X-Band communications, as well as some processing and memory improvements. According to their release, the X-Band shift “has increased data download speed tenfold,” and said that these changes allow for greater onboard image processing. 

GHGSat believes that their doubled fleet and more-than-doubled capacity is paying off. Jinbachian said that their growing constellation is “generating a lot more data…[and] we’re continuously focusing on speed of delivery because the insight we generate is time-sensitive.  We are also in a position to serve more customers across the sectors we work with, from industries like oil and gas to governments.”  

Jinbachian said that “We’ve been able to see emissions at a lot more sites, and more frequently at the same sites too. The ability to cover more ground and revisit more often is crucial to properly characterizing emissions and helping the prioritization of actions to mitigate them.” That has helped GHGSat reach the new milestone of identifying over 100 methane emissions following launch.

GHGSat also strongly highlighted the increased launch and deployment tempo. In the release, GHGSat CEO Stephane Germain said that they went from launching the satellites to producing actionable data “in just a matter of days.” Hailing it as a “remarkable achievement,” he credited SFL, saying that “in the months leading up to the launch, they demonstrated responsiveness and efficiency in adapting to shifting schedules. The SFL team commissioned the spacecraft quickly without anomalies.”

Jinbachian added that this quick turnaround was also due to GHGSat successfully “scaling up of the infrastructure that was already put in place for the first three satellites.” She said that the company “always look to automate processes whenever possible to accelerate the processing and analysis of the data and ensure that the team can remain focused on the key tasks.” 

Finally, this increased tempo will be reflected in the upcoming launch schedule as well. Previous announcements had said that the next set of GHGSat emissions-tracking satellites, GHGSat-C6 through GHGSat-C12, would be launched by the end of 2023. 

Jinbachian said that now the goal is to have them launched “sometime mid next year,” and that manufacturing is underway. Not only will it nearly double their methane-tracking capabilities again, but it will give their constellation new capabilities, as GHGSat-C12 will carry a payload for monitoring carbon dioxide emissions. 

About Craig Bamford

Craig started writing for SpaceQ in 2017 as their space culture reporter, shifting to Canadian business and startup reporting in 2019. He is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, and has a Master's Degree in International Security from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He lives in Toronto.

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