NASA is scrapping greenhouse gas monitoring satellite to save money

NASA is canceling a planned satellite to intensively monitor greenhouse gases over America because it became too costly and complicated.

However, the space agency said it will continue to monitor man-made carbon pollution, but in a different way.

NASA announced Tuesday that its GeoCarb mission, which was intended to be a low-cost satellite to monitor carbon dioxide, methane and plant life changes in North and South America, was canceled due to cost overruns.

When it was announced six years ago, it was supposed to cost $166 million, but the latest NASA figures show the cost would jump to over $600 million, and it was years too late, according to NASA director Karen St. Germain for Earth Sciences.

Unlike other satellites that monitor greenhouse gases from low-Earth orbit and present different parts of the Earth in one big picture, GeoCarb should be in orbit at a much higher altitude of 22,236 miles (35,786 kilometers) from a fixed location and staring intently at it concentrate North and South America. That different and broader perspective proved too difficult and costly to accomplish on budget and on time, St. Germain said.

Equipment alone more than doubled in price, and then there were non-technical issues that added even more, she said. The agency has already spent $170 million on the now-defunct program and will not spend more.

“This does not reflect a reduction in our commitment to science, observations related to greenhouse gases and climate change,” St. Germain said in an interview Tuesday. “We are still committed to doing this science. But we have to do it differently because we don’t see this instrument coming together.”

Monitoring greenhouse gases, the main cause of global warming, is important on many levels. It can help detect leaks, such as methane, or hold accountable companies and countries that have committed to reducing emissions. In addition to governments, many private companies now operate satellite monitoring of greenhouse gases.

Instead of their project, NASA wants to launch a yet-to-be-decided Earth-based mission that will be larger and less risky. The space agency also gets methane data from a special instrument on the International Space Station that is supposed to study mineral dust, but as a bonus monitors the potent greenhouse gas, there are also methane monitoring satellites from the European and Japanese space agencies and some commercial and non-profit firms, she said.

NASA also has two dedicated satellites that monitor carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas.