Two major subsystems of a joint France-UK space mission to combat climate change, by measuring carbon dioxide concentrations, have been delivered from the UK to Toulouse.
image courtesy UK Space Agency
Due for launch in 2022, the mission will monitor and map sources and ‘sinks’ of carbon gases, as well as supporting the Space Climate Observatory – one of the significant parts of the Paris Accords. It will be the first European mission intended to characterise greenhouse gas fluctuations on Earth’s surface and gauge how much carbon is being absorbed by oceans and forests, the main ‘sinks’ on the planet.
Humans are currently adding billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels, and about half of this sum stays in the atmosphere where it drives global warming. Half of the remaining half is absorbed into the ocean, with the remainder pulled down into these ‘sinks’ – but our ability to track how much is in each source, is very limited.
MicroCarb will play a pivotal role in international efforts to quantify just how much CO2 is being emitted by natural processes and by human activities.
The onboard Pointing and Calibration System (PCS), developed by Science and Technology Facilities Council’s RAL Space, and the optical test suite, developed by UK National Physical Laboratory (NPL), have both been delivered to Airbus Defence and Space, the prime contractor of the MicroCarb Instrument.
Dr Graham Turnock, CEO of the UK Space Agency, said: “The inventiveness and ingenuity that exists in the UK’s space sector is on full display in these instruments. They mark another exciting step forward in our collaboration with France on this vital mission to take the fight to climate change. Space is playing an increasingly crucial role in our efforts to monitor and combat climate change and Microcarb, the first European mission to measure sources and sinks of carbon, will arm us with the insights we need to help make Earth a healthier place.”
CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall stated: “The battle to curb climate change is a key strand of space cooperation between France and the United Kingdom. MicroCarb is a testament to our two nations’ commitment to take up this major challenge of the 21st century. With its cutting-edge instruments, the MicroCarb mission will deliver deeper insights into the effects of human-induced CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere.”
The in-flight PCS which is the entry port of the instrument and includes two onboard calibration sources, the White Lamp Subsystem and the Sun Diffuser, which will be integrated inside the instrument in January 2021.
Optical ground support equipment will be used all along the integration and qualification phase as a reference for absolute instrument calibration and highlights the UK’s role in the underpinning of data quality and veracity both pre-flight and in-flight.
In recent years, space collaboration between the UK and France has gone from strength to strength through the SWOT, IASI-NG and now MicroCarb programs. The UK Space Agency, the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales, Airbus Defence & Space, RAL Space and National Physical Laboratory are working together on the first European CO2 monitoring spectrometric instrument from space.
From 2022, MicroCarb will be able to measure the total column concentration of carbon gas with a high degree of precision, on the order of 1 ppm and with a pixel size of 4.5 km x 9 km. Carrying a more compact instrument almost three times lighter than OCO-2’s, MicroCarb is built around a CNES Myriade microsatellite bus and will perform local measurements of carbon gas concentrations in zones of intense human activity.
France is supporting this project through budget lines from the Government’s PIA future investment plan, as it is crucial to better understand the Carbon cycle in order to address carbon emission issues.