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Ministère de la Transition écologique et solidaire

COP21 : Ségolène Royal and Thierry Mandon present Microcarb, a satellite that measures CO2 distribution worldwide

On the occasion of the launch of “Mission Innovation” by France and the United States Ségolène Royal, in agreement with Thierry Mandon, Secretary of State for Higher Education and Research, presented the MicroCarb French micro-satellite project, developed by the French National Centre for Space Research (CNES) and financed by the French State.

MicroCarb will be mapping, on a global scale, sources and sinks of CO2, the main greenhouse gas. A micro-satellite is to be launched in 2020.

The aim is to determine how the main carbon sinks of our planet (oceans and rainforests) operate and to do a mapping of them. It will also measure the carbon emissions of cities, vegetation and oceans.

Due to lack of measuring stations today we lack knowledge about the quantities of CO2 that are absorbed and emitted in some parts of the planet, and how they vary across seasons. Yet this information is vital in understanding the origins and impacts of climate change. CO2 is indeed the main human-induced greenhouse gas.

To tackle this lack of data, Japan launched Gosat in 2009 and NASA launched the OCO-2 satellite in 2014. In 2020, the CNES could take over with the launch of MicroCarb. It will be fitted with an array spectrometer that will be able to measure the CO2 content of the entire atmospheric column with high accuracy (to the order of 1 ppm) and on the scale of a rectangular pixel of 5 km by 6 km.
This spectrometer was developed in partnership with French laboratories (LSCE and IPSL) and it will be inserted on a platform of the CNES MYRIADE Program.

This new instrument has a better compactness, it is almost three times lighter than the OCO-2 spectrometer. The objective is for MicroCarb to detect very local CO2 emissions and combine them with meteorological models.

MicroCarb will fly in a low orbit above the poles and it will be solar-powered. The collected data will then be shared with the broader scientific community.

The French government contributes 25 million EUR to the first phase of this project through budgets dedicated to the energy transition in the Investment Programme for the Future.

Other scientific satellite projects to monitor greenhouse gases are being initiated. CNES is also working on the Merlin project, in cooperation with the German space agency, to measure methane (CH4). Merlin will use a lidar : this instrument uses a powerful laser to emit a short and intense pulse of light towards the Earth’s surface and then analyses the reflected signal to estimate the amount of methane in the atmospheric column probed by the laser.

For its part, in order to meet the needs of the Copernicus Program, the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch by 2020 the Sentinel-4 and Sentinel-5 satellites that will also provide data on the atmospheric composition.

 Download the press release (PDF - 182 Ko)