UK joins France for carbon monitoring satellite mission to launch in 2020

19 April 2017

France’s MicroCarb mission to measure atmospheric concentrations of carbon got a boost today from an agreement with the UK that will see their space agencies co-operate to realise the project. MicroCarb’s planned launch in 2020 will see the French space agency, CNES, and the UK Space Agency ensure the continuity of global carbon monitoring from space; Japan’s GOSAT mission launched in 2009 and its follow-on, NASA’s OCO-2, launched in 2014. CNES has been working on the MicroCarb concept since the COP21 climate change summit in Paris in 2015.

According to CNES, MicroCarb is designed to map sources and sinks of carbon — the main greenhouse gas — on a global scale and thus track constantly rising levels of human-induced emissions that are fuelling global warming. The agency says the challenge facing the mission is to characterise carbon gas fluxes on Earth’s surface and quantify how much is being emitted and how much is being absorbed by ecosystems (oceans, vegetation and soil) in order to better predict future patterns of climate change. MicroCarb will be placed in a 650km Sun-synchronous polar orbit to provide coverage of the entire Earth.

The signing in London of the France-UK MicroCarb co-operation agreement comes a week after CNES’s contracting of Airbus Defence & Space to build the optical instruments that will form the spacecraft’s principal payload. According to Airbus, its spectrometer – scanning at visible and near infra-red wavelengths – will be accurate enough to measure CO2 levels to within one part in a million.

The instrument, says CNES, will be more compact than the one carried by OCO-2 and – at 60kg – about a third of the mass. Weighing a maximum of 200kg, MicroCarb will be built around a CNES Myriade microsatellite bus and will experiment with local imaging of carbon gas concentrations in zones of intense human activity. France has already provided €25 million in funding for the project through budget lines appropriated to the energy transition from the government’s Programme d’Investissements d’Avenir technology investment scheme.

MicroCarb, artist’s impression (CNES/iII./SATTLER Oliver, 2017)