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France and Germany to work on orbiting methane monitor

13 December 2015

The German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and the French space agency (CNES) have reaffirmed their commitment to jointly develop a methane sensing satellite.

Artist's impression of the MERLIN climate satellite (courtesy of Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR)

The German Aerospace Centre (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the French space agency (CNES) have reaffirmed their commitment to jointly develop the MEthane Remote sensing LIdar missioN (MERLIN) satellite that is set to measure concentrations of methane in Earth's atmosphere with unprecedented accuracy.

MERLIN is based on the new Myriade Evolutions spacecraft bus developed by CNES in partnership with industry. The payload is an active LIDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging) instrument and is being developed and built in Germany under the supervision of DLR and funds from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.

Using a laser to emit light in two different wavelengths, the LIDAR is able to acquire highly precise day/night measurements of atmospheric methane concentration at all latitudes. MERLIN is due to be launched in 2020, and will orbit Earth at an altitude of 500km.

Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. The goal of MERLIN is to learn more about the underlying processes of the methane cycle by characterising sources of the gas – both natural (wetlands, thawing permafrost, etc) and anthropogenic (transport and burning of coal, natural gas and ruminant livestock, etc).

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