A team of JPL researchers teamed with UC Merced's Mechatronics, Embedded Systems and Automation (MESA) Lab performed initial flight tests of the airborne, gas-sniffing system in late February. These tests involved flying the sensor rig past methane-filled containers at specific distances to gauge the device's accuracy. However, even from the sky, NASA found its methane meter to be more accurate than the current generation of handheld (or wearable) meters employed by industry inspectors.
"These tests mark the latest chapter in the development of what we believe will eventually be a universal methane monitoring system for detecting fugitive natural-gas emissions and contributing to studies of climate change," Lance Christensen, OPLS principal investigator at JPL, said in a statement.
Should the system get the go ahead from regulators, it could significantly reduce the amount of effort needed to inspect America's 300,000-odd miles of natural gas pipelines, not to mention cattle and hog farms, wastewater treatment facilities and other greenhouse gas hotspots.