On 7 April, US space agency Nasa launched its Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (Tempo) instrument atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
The instrument has been designed to monitor major air pollutants – down to four square miles. Scientists aim to improve life on Earth by revolutionising the way scientists observe air quality from space, a statement on Nasa’s website 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,” said Nasa Administrator Bill Nelson.
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. Scientists believe it will prove to be important in the 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, according to the Nasa statement.
Nasa is making instruments like Tempo easily accessible to everyone, said Karen St. Germain, division director for Nasa’s Earth Sciences Division. This will help industry leaders to asthma sufferers access to air quality information with precision like never before.
TEMPO’s data will significantly improve scientific data on air pollution – including ozone, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and formaldehyde – over the United States, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, the Bahamas, and part of the island of Hispaniola.
"Our TEMPO slogan is 'It's about time,' which hints at TEMPO's ability to provide hourly air pollution data," said Xiong Liu, deputy principal investigator for Tempo at the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian in Cambridge, Massachusetts in a statement. “After working on the TEMPO for more than 10 years, it is about time to launch TEMPO to produce real TEMPO data and start the new era of air quality monitoring over North America.”
A unique feature of Tempo, which has been described as a chemistry laboratory in space, is that it will be hosted on an Intelsat communications satellite in geostationary orbit, according to Deutsche Welle.
"Geostationary orbit is a common orbit for weather satellites and communications satellites, but an air quality instrument measuring gases hadn't been there yet," Caroline Nowlan, an atmospheric physicist at the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, explained to the AFP.
Tempo will also be 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, was launched into space in 2020 on the Korean Aerospace Research Institute GEO-KOMPSAT-2B satellite to measure pollution over Asia.
“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 and tropospheric composition program manager for Nasa said in the statement. “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.”