Watching MethaneSAT lift off

Back in June 2018 I began approaching various NZ government officials to become involved in a project aiming to launch the most advanced methane-detecting satellite into space.

We all know about methane and global warming! And NZ ruminants create a heap of it. The proposed satellite would deliver the most precise, high resolution methane detection available, on a continuous global basis.

My efforts were successful. MBIE and the New Zealand Space Agency decided in 2019 to partner with the US-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF, my then-client and long ago employer) in launching an EDF-developed satellite — MethaneSAT.

And in fact, as the project developed, the NZ Space Agency has taken the role of serving as ‘mission control’ and will operate the satellite from its new centre built at the University of Auckland.

This past week, Tuesday at 11:05 am NZ-time, not quite six years later, the satellite successfully launched from Vandenberg Space Centre in California, aboard a Space X rocket.

My original hope had been that the satellite could be launched by Rocket Lab right here in Mahia, but the satellite turned out to be too heavy a payload for their Electron vehicle. Nevertheless, Rocket Lab has built the Mission Operations and Control Centre at the University of Auckland’s Space Institute, which will now become the hub for the NZ Space Agency’s broader ambitions. A science team led by NIWA will be using the satellite’s data in particular to study agricultural methane emissions.

Here’s a NY Times piece on what the satellite will do.

Congratulations to the entire NZ contingent, and especially to the MBIE folks, led by Peter Crabtree and Dimitri Geidelberg, who carried the ball at the outset of this journey.

Here’s a report I received from Fred Krupp, EDF’s CEO, at the scene in California:

“Hi Tom,

After launch we were successfully released 2.5 hours later. We waited impatiently for 90 minutes hoping (praying) for signs of life — first contact. We did make contact and then learned the solar panels had successfully unfurled and the spacecraft is receiving the full voltage we anticipated from the solar array. All reports look good and GPS now giving us great data to track the satellite. We have one of our team now landed in Denver and headed to Ball Aerospace/BAE and he will arrive in the next hour. They are serving as Mission Control for the commissioning and calibration period, which will last a couple of months.

We will be getting data, validating it in these early days and we will begin publishing it I hope by early June. Before then we will be releasing maps generated by our recent flights using MethaneAir. We had two representatives of NZ with us for the launch. Marta Mager, based in DC representing the NZ Space Agency and Jeremy Clark-Watson, NZ Counsel General based in LA.

Tom, thank you for delivering a huge amount of support for this mission. You are a BIG shareholder with a lot of equity, and I deeply appreciate what you made happen.

So, all good so far.

Best, Fred”

All I can say is, I’m flying high, having helped NZ take this important step into space. And I look forward to seeing this data used internationally to identify and squelch methane emitters and inform climate policy.


Join the Conversation


  1. You must be rightly proud of the initiative and role in this significant project and its eventuality. It’s well known that you are an environmental activist but I had no idea of how deeply your commitment runs through your veins. This kind of collaboration gives us hope in these dark times

  2. Wow Tom!!! What an outstanding achievement!! You should indeed, be flying high!! Mentioned it to a couple of people today who said, “Oh yes, we know” Gosh, am I the only one who didn’t?? Very exciting!! Look forward to seeing/hearing results in June and next steps… especially crucial, given there’s not a lot on climate change as a priority for this government…. ( but hey! look at the money they’ll save on cancelling school lunches!!!)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *