The sky is no limit for a start-up Canadian-based company for which outer space and the Earth's atmosphere are its focus, tracking methane emissions for companies and governments that want to quantify how they are doing in their efforts to curtail greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Privately held GHGSat owns and operates what it claims is the world's only satellite designed specifically to monitor GHG emissions from industrial sources, including oil and natural gas operators. CEO Stephane Germain, who founded the company, earlier this month said a second methane-sniffing satellite would be launched in August.

The second satellite, "Iris," about the size of a small microwave oven, is incorporating lessons learned from nearly three years of operating the initial project "Claire." GHGSat has named its satellites for children of its employees. "Iris is expected to build on Claire's success by making it possible to monitor even more sites, more frequently, at a fraction of the cost of other technologies," Germain said.

A third satellite is in the planning stages for a 2020 launch, and longer term there could be a fleet of up to 13. Each satellite would work in tandem with each other. The current single satellite takes about 14 days to do what a fleet of three could do in less than a week's time, he said.

One satellite alone does not provide enough capacity to develop U.S.-wide or North American-wide data, but eventually the vision is to have enough multiple satellites operating to provide state- and country-level data, Germain said.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) last year laid plans to launch a methane satellite to track oil and gas emissions. MethaneSAT is set to launch by 2021 to identify global methane emissions from human-made sources, according to the EDF, which is leading a collaborative effort.

The European Space Agency also has a satellite that tracks greenhouse gas emissions including methane, but MethaneSAT would have a much higher resolution, said EDF President Fred Krupp.

Germain said the data Iris collects would not only help industrial operators, but also improve compliance reporting to regulators and provide unique competitive intelligence.

"Over a two-week period, we can see any point on the surface of the earth," he told NGI. The methane-tracking satellite has a cell phone-like digital camera that can cover 25 square meters on the ground for each of its 250,000 pixels. The technology measures methane concentrations in every one of the 25-meter-squared areas.

"We can always track down the source of the emissions, and we learned a lot over the last three years and everything we learned is included in the next satellite," said Germain, who added that after the satellite is orbiting the Earth, the software being used can be upgraded.