China Joins Japan, U.S. with Satellite-Based CO2 Monitoring

By David S Lewis

Despite China’s rough week in air quality, with air pollution in some cities hitting record highs, the country is credited for making large-scale efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, and is demonstrating its intention to further curb its output of greenhouse gasses by launching a satellite designed to monitor CO2 emissions from space.

The nearly 1,400-lb (620 kg) TanSat system was launched atop a Long March-2d rocket this morning from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, and will orbit approximately 435 miles above the Earth’s surface, where it will record emission concentration, distribution, and flow patterns, as well as providing the country with data on agricultural and forestry monitoring.

An artistic representation of the TanSat. "Tan" translates to "carbon". Image source: TanSat team.
An artistic representation of the TanSat. “Tan” translates to “carbon”. Image source: TanSat team.

The satellite is expected to have a three-year lifespan, and will take measurements accurate to 4 PPM every 16 days.

A recent study suggests that CO2 emissions have remained static globally for the last three years, in large part thanks to China’s efforts to control pollution. While the incoming U.S. administration has expressed skepticism about climate change concerns and have made overtures at leaving the Paris Agreement, China, faced with the stark realities of unregulated pollution as both a mounting environmental crisis and a public health emergency, appears committed to studying the effects of climate change and scaling back its own contribution.

With this launch, China joins Japan and the US in satellite-based CO2 monitoring.

An artistic representation of TanSat. Image source: TanSat team.
An artistic representation of TanSat. Image source: TanSat team.

The launch comes on the heels of another high-concept satellite technology, the QUESS (Quantum Experiments at Space Scale) system, aimed at both developing instantaneous and “uncrackable” encrypted communications from orbit to Earth and studying principals of quantum mechanics, such as entanglement, that are difficult or impossible to research terrestrially. The QUESS system, also launched from Jiuquan, made its way into orbit in August.

Feature image:CC BY 2.0 by NASA Goddard Photo and Video

About David S. Lewis

Lewis has been a writer, journalist, and editor for over a decade; his work has covered politics, policy, tech, and more. He is the co-founder and contributing editor of The Downlink Blog, a trade publication which covers advances in commercial space-based industry.

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