Space Cadet Jerry Brown Wants Calif. to Launch Its Own Satellite

‘With science still under attack and the climate threat growing, we’re launching our own damn satellite…’

Jerry Brown

California Gov. Jerry Brown/IMAGE: KTVU via Youtube

(Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times) Gov. Moonbeam is finally sending California into space.

Jerry Brown closed his climate summit in San Francisco on Friday with a dramatic announcement: California will launch its own satellite into orbit to track and monitor the formation of pollutants that cause climate change.

“With science still under attack and the climate threat growing, we’re launching our own damn satellite,” Brown said in prepared remarks. “This groundbreaking initiative will help governments, businesses and landowners pinpoint—and stop—destructive emissions with unprecedented precision, on a scale that’s never been done before.”

After decades of being unable to shake the moniker Gov. Moonbeam—which columnist Mike Royko branded Brown in 1976—the governor has come to embrace it in a big way. Brown suggested around that time that California should launch its own satellite for emergency communications. At the time, the governor was in his 30s and full of ideas for the state that critics dismissed as flaky. Some were put into law and established California as a pioneer on various policy fronts, others were put on the shelf.

The governor’s Global Climate Action Summit—and the Trump administration’s reluctance to pursue robust climate research—opened the door wide open for the governor to pull the satellite vision out of the archives.

The state will develop the satellite with the San Francisco-based earth imaging firm Planet Labs, a company founded by ex-NASA scientists in 2010. The state may ultimately launch multiple satellites into space, according to the governor’s office. The California Air Resources Board is in the process of developing the monitoring technology used by the satellite. No date has been set for the launch; the process is expected to take several years.

Officials at the air board discussed the possibility of the satellite at their meeting in July, where they expressed concern that the Trump administration had mothballed its plans to use the innovative technology to monitor pollutants from above. The state officials said at the time it hoped to launch within a few years.

Robbie Schingler, co-founder of Planet Labs, said the project will inform “how advanced satellite technology can enhance our ability to measure, monitor, and ultimately mitigate the impacts of climate change.”

The state hopes to put the satellite to use in pinpointing the sources of climate pollutants, which could enable it to refine its regulatory approach and better understand how to mitigate warming. Data from the satellite would be made available to the public through a partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund.

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