Critical milestone reached in New Zealand’s first government-funded space mission

Published: 23 April 2021

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment today welcomed the confirmation of the partners that will be working with the New Zealand Space Agency and non-profit NGO Environmental Defense Fund on a pioneering satellite mission designed to locate, quantify and speed the reduction of human-made methane emissions worldwide.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Emissions from oil and gas production, large scale agriculture and other activities are responsible for at least 25% of today’s warming. Reducing these emissions is the fastest way we have to slow the rate of planetary warming today, even as we continue to decarbonize the energy system. Data from MethaneSAT is meant to accelerate that progress.

“This is a critical milestone in the development of New Zealand’s first government-funded space mission,” Dr Peter Crabtree, General Manager Science, Innovation and International.

“MethaneSAT is an incredible opportunity for New Zealand to partner with the Environmental Defense Fund, to make a substantial contribution to the global climate change mitigation efforts.

Te Pūnaha Ātea – Auckland Space Institute to host the MOCC

“Te Pūnaha Ātea – Auckland Space Institute, a multidisciplinary centre of expertise in space science and engineering at the University of Auckland, has been chosen as the permanent host of the New Zealand based Mission Operations Control Centre (MOCC) for the MethaneSAT mission.

“Led by Professor Guglielmo Aglietti, the Institute aims to enhance the growth of the New Zealand space sector, with world-leading applied research and development as well as educational programmes that shape the next generation of scientists and engineers.

“The University of Auckland has a track record and reputation for successfully delivering important programmes like this, and I’m thrilled that they have been confirmed to be the permanent host of mission control,” said Dr Crabtree. 

Rocket Lab to manage the MOCC initially

Rocket Lab will develop the sophisticated IT systems for the MOCC and will undertake early mission operations for up to 12 months. Once it is running smoothly, it will be transferred to Te Pūnaha Ātea-Auckland Space Institute as the host. 

“Rocket Lab will provide their immense expertise to initially operate the MOCC, and will work closely with the University of Auckland when it’s time to transition. We’re fortunate to have this expertise in New Zealand, and to have the opportunity to continue to build our space sector capability as a result of this mission,” said Dr Crabtree. 

Science team appointed

A New Zealand-based science team, led by Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher of NIWA, has been appointed to lead the research using the satellite’s data to better understand agricultural methane emissions. 

“Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher has pulled together an incredible team of leaders in atmospheric science and remote sensing to harness the power of the satellite to advance our knowledge of agricultural methane emissions. They’ll also work closely with a US-based team, with researchers from the Harvard University and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. This is an important opportunity for New Zealand to stamp our mark on global climate change science and research,” Dr Crabtree said.

Partnering with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) 

Dr. Steven Hamburg, Project Co-lead, MethaneSAT and Chief Scientist at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), said “New Zealand has been an early and essential partner in the MethaneSAT journey, bringing strong scientific and technical capabilities to the project and allowing us to integrate agricultural emissions into the mission.”

“The New Zealand government investment in MethaneSAT will help us achieve our goal to find and quantify methane emissions worldwide, and track reductions in emissions of this powerful greenhouse pollutant. We value the enthusiasm and insight that New Zealand brings to this project,” said Dr Hamburg.

Read more about the MethaneSAT space mission(external link)

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Last updated: 23 April 2021