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Editorial comment

Back in February, the landing of a first commercial spacecraft on the Moon sparked a wave of excitement about a new era of private lunar exploration. The successful touchdown of US-based Intuitive Machines’ unmanned Odysseus lander marked the first time that a US craft has landed on the Moon since 1972, and it is hoped that it will change the face of planetary exploration. It could help to fund future state missions, and eventually aid plans to set up a permanent human base on the Moon (and beyond).

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While the Odysseus lander grabbed most of the headlines, another vitally important space mission took place shortly after. On 4 March, a groundbreaking satellite designed to help protect the Earth’s climate successfully launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, US. MethaneSAT – developed by a subsidiary of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and partnered by the likes of Google, SpaceX, and the New Zealand Space Agency – will find and measure methane emissions over wide areas. The satellite, which will focus first on oil and gas operations, processes observed spectrographic data to calculate quantitative emission rates, revealing how much methane is emitted. “MethaneSAT’s superpower is the ability to precisely measure methane levels with high resolution over wide areas, including smaller, diffuse sources that account for most emissions in many regions”, said Steven Hamburg, EDF Chief Scientist and MethaneSAT Project Leader. “Knowing how much methane is coming from where and how the rates are changing is essential.”

According to the project backers, the unique capabilities of MethaneSAT will create unprecedented transparency. Interactive emissions data will be available free of charge, enabling anyone to see and compare emissions results by company, country or production basin. Ultimately, this will enable operators to find and fix problems faster.

As outlined in an excellent article from Umicore Coating Services that features in this issue of Hydrocarbon Engineering, the world seems to be finally waking up to the substantial threat posed by this invisible gas, and finding the solutions to conquer it. A number of new announcements to reduce methane emissions were made at the COP28 summit in Dubai, and over 150 countries have now signed up to the Global Methane Pledge to reduce methane emissions by at least 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.

What’s more, MethaneSAT is just one of the tools that is now available to help oil and gas producers to collect data on their emissions. Indeed, the team behind MethaneSAT point to a ‘complementary ecosystem’ of methane satellites for addressing emissions globally, including a satellite developed by the European Space Agency. A new global satellite methane detection and notification system (known as the Methane Alert and Response System, or MARS for short) is also extremely promising for the industry. As Mark Naples, Managing Director of Umicore Coating Services, explains in his exclusive article starting on p. 14 of this issue: “Energy suppliers could soon have access to a suite of tools and funding to reduce gaps in their understanding of where emissions are occurring, enabling them to act as never before against this invisible threat.”

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