NASA has launched a new satellite instrument that aims to revolutionize the way scientists observe air quality from space.
The Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) instrument will provide high resolution monitoring of major air pollutants down to four square miles.
It was launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The instrument is a payload on the satellite Intelsat 40E, which separated from the rocket approximately 32 minutes after launch on April 7, 2023. TEMPO commissioning activities will begin in late May or early June.
Bill Nelson, NASA administrator, said, “The TEMPO mission is about more than just studying pollution – it’s about improving life on Earth for all. By monitoring the effects of 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.”
From a fixed geostationary orbit above the equator, TEMPO will be the first space-based instrument to measure air quality over North America hourly during the daytime and at spatial regions of several square miles – far better than existing limits of about 100 square miles in the USA. TEMPO data will play an important role in the scientific analysis of pollution, including studies of rush hour pollution, the potential for improved air quality alerts, the effects of lightning on ozone, the movement of pollution from forest fires and volcanoes, and even the effects of fertilizer application.
Karen St Germain, division director for NASA’s Earth Sciences Division, said, “NASA makes data from instruments like TEMPO easily accessible to everyone, 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 – in both time and location – than they’ve ever been able to before. And that also provides the information needed to start addressing one of the most pressing human health challenges.”
TEMPO’s observations will dramatically improve the scientific data record on air pollution – including ozone, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and formaldehyde – not only over the continental USA, but also Canada, Mexico, Cuba, the Bahamas, and part of the island of Hispaniola.
TEMPO also will form part of an air quality satellite virtual constellation that will track pollution around the Northern Hemisphere. South Korea’s Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer, the first instrument in the constellation, launched into space in 2020 on the Korean Aerospace Research Institute GEO-KOMPSAT-2B satellite, and is measuring pollution over Asia. The ESA (European Space Agency) Sentinel-4 satellite, scheduled to launch in 2024, will make measurements over Europe and North Africa.
The instrument was built by Ball Aerospace and integrated onto Intelsat 40E by Maxar.