NASA Secures Ride into Space for Instrument that Will Observe Air Pollution

NASA has obtained a host satellite provider and ride into space for an instrument that will considerably improve the understanding of air quality over North America.

Maxar Technologies of Westminster, Colorado, will offer satellite incorporation, launch, and data transmission services for NASA’s Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO), an Earth science instrument that will monitor air pollution above North America from a geostationary orbit in unparalleled detail.

The U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center awarded a contract with Maxar through its Hosted Payload Solutions contract, a procurement mechanism that offers many qualified vendors satisfying the government’s requirements for a range of hosted payload space missions at cost savings to the government.

TEMPO is planned to be launched in 2022 on a 1300-class commercial satellite offered by Maxar, and will take hourly measurements of atmospheric gases—including nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and formaldehyde, as well as aerosols—over North America, from a geostationary vantage point 35,786 km (22,236 miles) on top of Earth’s equator.

Although ozone is a main protector of life on Earth and prevents damaging ultraviolet radiation from penetrating, it is also an air pollutant and greenhouse gas. The new stream of data available from TEMPO will offer near-real-time air quality products that will be made publicly accessible and will help enhance air quality forecasting.

Furthermore, TEMPO will allow scientists to track population exposure, enhance pollution emission inventories, and assess effective emission-control approaches.

The TEMPO instrument project is headed by Kelly Chance, Principal Investigator from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The instrument was created by Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, and is in storage, waiting to be shipped to Maxar’s satellite manufacturing facility in Palo Alto, California.

With the TEMPO instrument fully spaceflight qualified and safely delivered, we are excited about this important step and look forward to working closely with Maxar for the successful deployment of TEMPO.

Stephen Hall, TEMPO Project Manager, NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia

TEMPO will play a part in the global air-quality monitoring constellation that will contain analogous satellites: the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-4, presently in development, and South Korea’s Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer, planned to fly in early 2020.

The instrument’s international science group comprises collaborators from North America, Asia, and Europe and is headed by Chance and Deputy Principal Investigator Xiong Liu, also from SAO. Researchers with the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration play vital roles in the TEMPO science group.

In 2012, TEMPO became the first instrument to receive an award from NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder (ESSP) Program in the Earth Venture Instrument Class Series. Earth Venture projects deal with new scientific priorities using sophisticated instrumentation incorporated on small satellites, airborne platforms, or as hosted payloads on larger platforms. The ESSP Program is situated at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

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