Satellite Monitors Greenhouse-Gas Emissions in the Middle East

Credit: GHGSat.
Prior to launch, the satellite Claire was rigorously tested in accordance with industry best practices to maximize chances of mission success. Tests were performed at component, subsystem, and system levels. The image is from Claire's final trip to the thermal vacuum chamber before launch.

In June 2016, GHGSat launched the world’s first satellite capable of measuring greenhouse-gas emissions from targeted industrial facilities around the world. The satellite was capable of measuring emission rates of carbon dioxide and methane from selected targets with greater precision and lower cost than ground-based alternatives across a wide range of industries. GHGSat is deriving the emission rates of these sources from 12×12-km maps of the atmospheric column densities of carbon dioxide and methane produced using its patented sensor at a spatial resolution better than 50 m. The satellite’s mass is less than 15 kg. This solution provides industrial site operators and government regulators with the information they need to understand and manage greenhouse-gas emissions better and, ultimately, to reduce them more economically. This paper describes the system, including sensor and satellite specifications. It also describes the products and services, shows how they apply to the oil and gas industry in the Middle East, and provides examples of various levels of imagery taken from the region with the satellite.


In the summer of 2011, Quebec and California announced that they would implement a market-based cap-and-trade system to attribute a value to each ton of carbon emitted by industrial operators. Industrial operators, therefore, would be motivated to measure their emissions better so that they could control and ultimately reduce them.

This announcement inspired GHGSat’s founders. They understood that, if a value were assigned to a ton of carbon, industrial operators and their government regulators would need precise measurements of emissions from industrial facilities at attractive prices. GHGSat’s parent company already had been working closely with a partner company through the 2000s for the Canadian Space Agency to develop key technologies to make such measurements from a satellite. Therefore, they began customer interviews, technical evaluations, and financial analyses to determine whether they could offer a solution profitably.

They discovered an existing multibillion-dollar market for carbon emissions, growing steadily as ever more jurisdictions imposed taxes or implemented carbon-trading mechanisms, being served by a vast array of measurement products and services. They believed that their spectrometer technology could disrupt this large and growing market by offering a single solution with better precision and lower cost than alternatives, across a wide range of industries, anywhere in the world.

Within 3 months of the announcement, they secured two blue-chip customers, developed a preliminary technical solution, recruited a core set of vendors, and developed a business plan. GHGSat was incorporated in December 2011, secured initial financing through 2012, and began development of a demonstration satellite in the spring of 2013.


In just more than 2 years, from spring 2013 to summer 2015, GHGSat followed a classic aerospace development process to design, manufacture, integrate, assemble, and test its first satellite system, called GHGSat-D, or Claire.

  • The underlying science leveraged similar satellite measurements pioneered by NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency over 30 years.
  • The primary instrument was designed to provide similar precision, but with 100X better spatial resolution in order to measure emissions from targeted sites.
  • In order to meet a reasonable budget and to reduce risk, the primary instrument was designed to fit in a nanosatellite with proven space heritage. This resulted in a total satellite cost on the order of 1% of that for comparable missions.
  • The system was built and tested at component, subsystem, and integrated levels. External references were used where possible to verify performance.
  • The system was awarded a patent in the US in January 2016, and a filing for the same was made under the Patent Cooperation Treaty in May 2015. A patent was granted in Canada in 2017, and the system is currently patent-pending in Europe, India, and Japan. An additional filing is also pending in the US.

GHGSat-D was completed in Fall 2015 and successfully launched in June 2016. The satellite was fully commissioned in July 2016.

Find paper SPE 188398 on the HSE Technical Discipline Page free for a limited time.

Find paper SPE 188398 on OnePetro.



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