Minimize CO2M

CO2M (Copernicus Carbon Dioxide Monitoring) Mission

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With last month’s release of the IPCC (Inter-Governmental Panel for Climate Change) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C , it has become even more apparent that current pledges fall short of limiting global warming to the objectives stated in the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement agreed by 195 nations at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2015 included the aim of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change by “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.” As part of the Paris agreement, all Parties agreed to a global stocktake every five years starting in 2023 to assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the Agreement and to inform of further individual actions to be taken by Parties. 1)

The European Union’s Copernicus program has launched an initiative to support the stocktaking exercise with a new observation-based service to monitor CO2 emissions resulting from human activities. The analysis of these measurements will allow EU member states and other countries to track progress in achieving the Paris Agreement goals.

Providing comprehensive emission data

EU countries, like all other countries that ratified the Paris Agreement, are committed to Nationally Determined Contributions for reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions. These contributions will be assessed through the five-yearly global stocktake. Copernicus’ proposed service will offer observation-based information to make the assessments more comprehensive and consistent worldwide.

Building observation and modelling capacity

To achieve this goal, the European Commission (EC) is working together with the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF).The initiative develops on existing modelling infrastructure, designs a series of unprecedented satellite and ground-based observation systems, and improves model-based analysis.

According to Mauro Facchini, Head of the Copernicus Unit at the European Commission, “Copernicus – Europe’s eyes on Earth – is the largest environmental space program ever designed in Europe to monitor our dynamic Earth. This CO2 initiative constitutes a significant positive step towards climate change mitigation and will further consolidate Europe’s leading position on the global stage in this policy field of utmost and critical importance for mankind.”

“Together with industry, we are already designing the concept for a Sentinel mission to measure atmospheric CO2 with unprecedented high resolution and accuracy,” says Josef Aschbacher, Director of Earth Observation Program at ESA. “If the mission is selected by ESA’s Member States and the European Commission to go ahead, it will enable us to get a more precise distinction between anthropogenic and natural emissions.”

Florence Rabier, Director-General of ECMWF confirms: “Measuring CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere is not sufficient to estimate CO2 emissions. We need detailed computer models of the atmosphere and biosphere, similar to those used in weather forecasting, to make the link between the observations and the actual anthropogenic emissions. ECMWF’s world-leading operational forecasting systems, already used within the Copernicus Climate Change and Atmosphere Services, provide the framework and we already work closely with the European science community through the Horizon 2020 CHE project to extend our capabilities to enable quantifying the CO2 emissions.”

Alain Ratier, Director-General of EUMETSAT, adds, “The Copernicus initiative will provide crucial observation-based information in support of global action to combat climate change. International collaboration and coordination between the various data providers is a key element of this and we are therefore working with our partner agencies around the world to ensure that Copernicus plans are part of a global coordinated effort.”

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Figure 1: The Copernicus CO2M (Carbon Dioxide Monitoring) mission is one of Europe’s new high-priority satellite missions and will be the first to measure how much carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere specifically through human activity (image credit: OHB)




Development status

• January 24, 2022: When Joe Biden was inaugurated as President one year ago, he fulfilled his promise to rejoin the Paris Agreement and set a course for the US to tackle the climate crisis by supporting global efforts to limit global warming. ESA recently joined the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology by public video link to share European plans and expertise on measuring carbon dioxide and methane from space. 2)

- With our climate on the brink of crisis, the COP26 conference, held in Scotland in November 2021, ended with a global agreement to accelerate action on climate. The Glasgow Climate Pact, combined with increased ambition and action, means that limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels remains just about in sight, but it will only be delivered with concerted and immediate global efforts.

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Figure 2: ESA's Climate Change from Space Kit is an interactive PDF that takes the reader through many of the ‘variables’ that upset Earth’s delicate balance and describes how ESA measures them from space (image credit: ESA)

- Climate change is a reality. Greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are responsible for rising temperatures, altering the Earth system’s delicate balance. The effects of which are widespread, threatening lives, well-being and prosperity. If unaddressed, the consequences of a changing climate will be devastating. World leaders at COP26 work to accelerate action towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions to keep the goal of 1.5°C temperature rise within reach.

- Limiting the amount of greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere is absolutely essential to achieving these goals and to averting disaster. As nations around the world take steps to drastically curb carbon emissions, measuring and monitoring carbon dioxide and methane gases in our atmosphere is key to helping nations show that they are accomplishing their emission reduction goals.

- Just as a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions requires a global effort to address the climate crisis, working together to monitor emissions transparently is also needed.

- With the US now backing action on climate change, the Biden administration established the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). It is the sole body of advisors from outside the federal government charged with making science, technology and innovation policy recommendations to the President and the White House. This scientific advisory body, which is established by executive order, had been suppressed for a long time by the previous administration.

- Yasjka Meijer, working at ESA as mission scientist for the Copernicus Anthropogenic CO2M (Carbon Dioxide Monitoring) mission, was invited to make recommendations in a PCAST meeting, broadcast live to the public, on improving efforts to measure and monitor greenhouse gas emissions.

- Dr Meijer said, “It was a great honour to be invited to the session, which took place on the first anniversary of President Biden’s inauguration – and the PCAST members subsequently briefed the President in a private meeting as he’d chosen this day to meet with scientists and technologists about America’s future.”

- With pledges made at COP26 to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the meeting focused on satellite resources to monitor carbon dioxide and methane.

- Prof. Maria Zuber, Vice President for Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and who co-chaired the meeting, said, “Now comes the hard part of delivering on those pledges. We don’t have the necessary set of tools to monitor and assess the results that all countries report. The objective we must have, is to be able to measure and monitor greenhouse gas emissions at scales at global, regional and point sources.”

Figure 3: On January 20 and 21, 2022 the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) held a meeting to discuss various aspects of improving efforts to measure and monitor greenhouse gases and accelerating energy technology innovation (video credit: The White House)

- US satellite missions currently in service include the US Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2), which was launched back in 2014 and is still returning data on atmospheric carbon dioxide. A follow-on OCO-3 instrument was installed on the International Space Station in 2019, but it has a limited lift. The Geostationary Carbon Observatory mission is targeted for launch in the early 2020s, but currently lacks a satellite platform to host this instrument. Therefore, the worry is that the US doesn’t have a greenhouse satellite mission secured for the future.

- Presentations during the meeting highlighted the value of Europe’s current Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission, which includes methane – but not carbon dioxide.

- Copernicus Sentinel-5P carries an instrument called TROPOMI, which maps many trace gases including nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and methane. Its data are proving extremely valuable for monitoring air pollution. Importantly, the data it returns on methane currently allow us to assess emissions contributing to global warming.

- A specific type of instrument is needed to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide, which, from Europe’s side, will be addressed by the upcoming Copernicus CO2M mission.

- During the meeting Dr Meijer explained that CO2M is one of six Copernicus Sentinel Expansion missions that ESA is developing on behalf of the EU. The missions will expand the current capabilities of the Copernicus programme – the world’s biggest supplier of Earth observation data.

- CO2M is secured as a two-satellite mission, with the option of a third satellite in the constellation. Each satellite will carry a near-infrared and shortwave-infrared spectrometer to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane at high spatial resolution. These measurements will be used by the new CO2M Monitoring and Verification Support capacity, which the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts is developing, and which will eventually reduce uncertainties in estimates of emissions of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuel at local, national and regional scales.

- This system will provide the EU with a unique and independent source of information to assess the effectiveness of policy measures, and to track their impact towards decarbonising Europe and meeting national emission reduction targets. Moreover, nations throughout the world will be able to assess and compare with transparency how they are meeting their targets.

- Dr Meijer added, “While I’m happy that Europe is ahead of the game in planning and implementing such a key satellite mission, it’s also important that nations work together and share knowledge and expertise especially considering the threats posed by climate change. Of course, CO2M will bring benefits to the whole world thanks to the Copernicus policy on open and free access to data. However, planning missions for the future is essential to ensure continued comprehensive global monitoring. I hope I helped inform PCAST and I also hope that the US will further contribute to monitoring greenhouse gas emissions.”

- ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Simonetta Cheli, noted, “We at ESA are very proud of the contribution we make to the EU’s Copernicus Programme. Here we see how the Copernicus CO2M mission will help address the climate crisis, and the objectives of the Paris Agreement and EU’s Green Deal towards the decarbonisation of Europe by 2050. Cooperation is key to the best outcome for all of society so ESA works very closely with many international organisations, including NASA. We look forward to working with the US on any plans they may formulate on monitoring greenhouse gases from space in the future.”

• November 10, 2021: A new satellite destined to be Europe’s prime mission for monitoring and tracking carbon dioxide emissions from human activity is being put through its paces at ESA’s Test Centre in the Netherlands. With nations at COP26 pledging net-zero emissions by 2050, the pressure is on to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere – but the race is also on to support the monitoring that shows targets are being met. ESA, the European Commission, Eumetsat and industrial partners are therefore working extremely hard to get the Copernicus Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide Monitoring Mission (CO2M) ready for liftoff in 2025. 3)

- As the reality of climate change is hitting hard, the target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C is critical if we have any hope combating climate change – and the best way of doing this is to reduce greenhouse emissions. However, understanding that targets are being met is also a priority – and the best way of doing this is from space.

- CO2M is one of six Copernicus Sentinel Expansion missions that ESA is developing on behalf of the EU. These high-priority missions will address EU policy and gaps in Copernicus user needs, expanding the current capabilities of the Copernicus program – the world’s biggest supplier of Earth observation data.

- CO2M is planned as a two-satellite mission, with the option of a third satellite. They each will carry a near-infrared and shortwave-infrared spectrometer to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide at high spatial resolution. These measurements will be used by the new CO2M Monitoring and Verification Support Capacity, which the ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts) is developing, and which will eventually reduce uncertainties in estimates of emissions of carbon dioxide from the combustion of fossil fuel at local, national and regional scales.

Figure 4: The CO2M mission will measure atmospheric carbon dioxide produced through human activity. CO2M is one of six Copernicus Sentinel Expansion missions that ESA is developing on behalf of the EU. As global efforts are put in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to address the climate crisis, the CO2M mission will play a critical role in providing the EU with a unique and independent source of information to assess the effectiveness of policy measures, and to track their impact towards decarbonizing Europe and meeting national emission reduction targets. - With launch of the first CO2M satellite scheduled for 2025, the satellite structural model is being tested in ESA’s Test Centre in the Netherlands. The video features the mission’s ESA Project Manager, Valerie Fernandez, who explains the purpose of the mission and the stage at which the mission is in its development process (video credit: ESA)

- This will provide the EU with a unique and independent source of information to assess the effectiveness of policy measures, and to track their impact towards decarbonizing Europe and meeting national emission reduction targets.

- Moreover, nations throughout the world will be able to assess and compare with transparency how they are meeting their targets.

- Yasjka Meijer, CO2M Mission Scientist at ESA, said, “Remarkably, the mission will enable us to distinguish between natural sources of carbon dioxide and sources that are a result of human activity. This is no easy matter because the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes from many sources, but each source only contributes a small amount. We need to measure very precisely if the mission is going to provide reliable data to ensure that governments are meeting their targets.”

- With such an important task ahead, the development of CO2M is running at full speed and the industrial team is working hard to get the satellite ready for its life in orbit.

- As part of the development, the satellite structural model is at ESA’s ESTEC testing facilities in the Netherlands – the largest satellite test facility in Europe, equipped to simulate every aspect of the space environment. The shakers are used specifically to simulate launch stresses.

Figure 5: CO2M on the shaker at ESA’s Test Centre in the Netherlands (video credit: ESA)

- Valerie Fernandez, ESA’s CO2M Project Manager, explains, “Everyone is working hard to keep the development of the mission running to a tight schedule. The current suite of tests is being carried out on the structural model of the satellite at ESTEC. It is now on a shaker, which tests the satellite's mechanical integrity to make sure that it is sufficiently rigid and will survive the vibrations of launch.

- “These tests will allow us to consolidate the satellite design and move quickly towards the next steps in the hardware procurement. Although we have to work as efficiently as possible, the team is being very careful and thorough to ensure that CO2M will be a world class mission and something Europe can be extremely proud of.”

• July 31, 2020: With the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere approaching levels that humans may have never before experienced, the need to monitor sources of emissions is more urgent than ever – hence the Copernicus Carbon Dioxide Monitoring mission being one of Europe’s new high-priority satellite missions. Taking the mission a significant step forward, ESA and OHB System AG have, today, signed a contract to build the first two satellites that make up the mission. 4)

- With a contract secured worth €445 million, OHB will lead the industrial consortium to start building the two satellites.

- As the main contractor, OHB is responsible overall, and is also developing the satellite platforms. As the main sub-contractor, Thales Alenia Space will supply the instruments: the near-infrared and shortwave-infrared spectrometer that will measure emissions of carbon dioxide.

- Importantly, the mission will be the first to measure how much carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere specifically through human activity.

- Although measurements on the ground have made it possible to track general changes in the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, it is not possible to make reliable statements about anthropogenic emissions from individual countries or even individual regions and cities. The new space-based measurements will also allow globally comparable data.

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Figure 6: High-resolution simulation of total column carbon dioxide plumes from Berlin and nearby power plants on 2 July 2015. The data were generated by Empa, as part of the ESA-funded Smartcarb study (image credit: Empa, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology)

- The CO2M mission aims to close this gap. In turn, data gathered by CO2M will be used to help track and implement targets set out in the Paris Agreement.

- ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programs, Josef Aschbacher, said, “We are thrilled to have the contract signed so that OHB can move forward developing the mission. Climate change is clearly something we are all very concerned about, and the CO2M mission is destined to be a game changer in monitoring emissions so that key information is available for policy-making.”

- CEO of the OHB Group, Marco Fuchs, stressed, “The task of implementing the CO2M mission as prime contractor makes me very proud. The question of how the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will develop in the coming decades will also determine the fate of the global climate.”

- The contract for the CO2M mission is the first to be signed following ESA’s industrial committee approval to proceed with the development of the six new Copernicus high-priority missions earlier this month.

- These new missions will follow on from the suite of Sentinel missions that are currently at the heart of the EU’s Copernicus environmental monitoring program. The space component of Copernicus is co-funded by the EU and the ESA Member States.

- Copernicus is the biggest provider of Earth observation data in the world – and while the EU is at the helm of this environmental monitoring program, ESA develops, builds and launches the dedicated satellites. It also operates some of the missions and ensures the availability of data from third party missions. 5)

• July 3, 2020: Following the financial commitment from ESA Member States at last November’s Council at Ministerial Level Space19+, ESA’s industrial policy committee has approved contracts totalling €2.55 billion to forward the development of six new Copernicus satellite missions, each mission comprising two satellites, a development and a recurrent unit. 6)

- The overall package is co-funded by the EU and ESA Member States, and relies on future funding from the EU Multiannual financial framework.

- The approval provides the green light to start industrial contracts for the six missions. However, two important milestones need to be met before the missions can be fully developed: an agreement between ESA and the EU for the EU co-funded part of the program, and a positive decision by the EC as well as ESA/EU Member States to go from Phase B2 to Phase C/D.

- This decision point is planned in the second half of 2021.

- Copernicus is often quoted as a prime example how the European Commission and ESA can successfully work together in space, making perfect use of each other’s strengths.

- The current suite of Sentinel missions are at the heart of the program. Data from the Sentinels feed into the Copernicus Services, which help address challenges such as food security, air pollution, rising sea levels, diminishing polar ice, natural disasters and, importantly, climate change.



1) ”European Union’s Copernicus program is planning a monitoring capacity for anthropogenic CO2 emissions,” EU, Copernicus, 29 November 2018, URL: https://atmosphere.copernicus.eu/
european-unions-copernicus-programme-planning-monitoring-capacity-anthropogenic-co2-emissions

2) ”ESA supports the White House on greenhouse gas monitoring,” ESA Applications, 24 January 2022, URL: https://www.esa.int/Applications/Observing_the_Earth/
Copernicus/ESA_supports_the_White_House_on_greenhouse_gas_monitoring

3) ”Carbon dioxide monitoring satellite given the shakes,” ESA Applications, 10 November 2021, URL: https://www.esa.int/Applications/Observing_the_Earth/
Copernicus/Carbon_dioxide_monitoring_satellite_given_the_shakes

4) ”Contract signed to build Europe’s carbon dioxide monitoring mission,” ESA Applications, 31 July 2020, URL: https://www.esa.int/Applications/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/
Contract_signed_to_build_Europe_s_carbon_dioxide_monitoring_mission

5) ”Copernicus CO2 MonitoringMission Requirements Document,” ESA, 27 September 2019, URL: https://esamultimedia.esa.int/docs/EarthObservation/CO2M_MRD_v2.0_Issued20190927.pdf

6) ”Contracts awarded for development of six new Copernicus missions,” ESA Applications, 03 July 2020, URL: http://www.esa.int/Applications/Observing_the_Earth/Copernicus/
Contracts_awarded_for_development_of_six_new_Copernicus_missions



The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (herb.kramer@gmx.net).

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