On Tuesday 8 December at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference COP 21 in Paris, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the French space agency (CNES) met to reaffirm 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. Germany was represented by Brigitte Zypries, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and Federal Government Coordinator of German Aerospace Policy, and France was represented by Thierry Mandon, Secretary of State for Higher Education and Research. Also present were Gerd Gruppe, member of the DLR Executive Board responsible for the Space Administration and Jean-Yves Le Gall, president of CNES.
Accurate measurements around the clock
France and Germany are consequently showing their determination to engage in a large-scale bilateral space cooperation project, with the intent to develop space missions dedicated to measuring greenhouse gases and their sources, as well as to acquire the tools necessary to gain a greater insight into the mechanisms driving Earth’s climate.
MERLIN is built around 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. Germany and France will jointly process and evaluate the data gained from the mission through the close involvement of research laboratories, which are making a vital contributions towards defining science targets, technical developments and validating the system. MERLIN will be launched in 2020, and will orbit Earth at an altitude of 500 kilometres.
Methane – a climate-damaging greenhouse gas
Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. Its contribution is therefore significant. 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.).
After this meeting, Mandon and Zypries emphasised: "The development of MERLIN by CNES and DLR is highly symbolic and demonstrates France and Germany's strong desire to accomplish this mission, which is going to be crucial in increasing our understanding of the processes driving climate change. With the COP 21 climate conference now underway in Paris, this is a major milestone for the environment and its protection, which shows we are fully committed to moving forward in this area, vital for the future of our planet."