NASA launches high-res instrument to monitor air quality across US
NASA has launched a high-resolution instrument to monitor air quality across the entire continental United States, providing data on everything from rush hour pollution to the effects of fertilizer application.
Hitching a ride atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring Pollution (TEMPO) mission launched in the early hours of April 7, 2023. Designed to provide important scientific analysis of pollution and climate events, it will maintain a fixed geostationary orbit – a high Earth orbit matching the Earth’s rotation – about 22,000 miles above the equator, monitoring pollution from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and all the way from Mexico City and the Yucatan Peninsula to the Canadian oil sands.
TEMPO has an unprecedented resolution, down to four square miles (10.4 sq km), far better than the existing limits of about 100 square miles (259 sq km). It’ll be the first space-based instrument to take hourly daytime measurements of ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and formaldehyde levels over the continental US, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, the Bahamas, and part of the island of Hispaniola in the West Indies. This will dramatically improve the amount of available data on air pollution.
“The TEMPO mission is about more than just studying pollution – it’s about improving life on Earth for all,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson. “By monitoring everything from rush-hour traffic to pollution from forest fires and volcanoes, NASA data will help improve air quality across North America and protect our planet.”
TEMPO's air quality data will not only be useful in assessing and tackling climate change, but it'll also be available to all.
“NASA makes data from instruments like TEMPO easily accessible to everyone,” said Karen St Germain, division director of NASA’s Earth Sciences Division. “Which means that everyone from community and industry leaders to asthma sufferers are going to be able to access air quality information at a higher level of detail – both in time and location – than they’ve ever been able to before.”
TEMPO forms part of an international air quality satellite constellation focused on measuring air quality with a view to reducing the impact of air pollution on human health and the environment. It joins South Korea’s Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer (GEMS), which launched in February 2020 and is taking measurements over Asia. Next to join the constellation is the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Sentinel-4 satellite, with a launch targeted for 2024, which will monitor Europe and North Africa.
“This marks a new era in our ability to observe air pollution over North America, including the entire continental United States,” said Barry Lefer, TEMPO program scientist. “It’s also opening the door for us to work more closely with our international partners to better understand global air quality and its transport.”
The below video is the official NASA broadcast of the TEMPO launch.
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