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NASA deployed a sophisticated air quality tester into orbit.

Photo Credit: Nasa

NASA launched a sophisticated air pollution monitor overnight. It should be able to zoom in to see air quality changes across North America. It might reveal pollution discrepancies.

TEMPO stands for Tropospheric Emissions Monitoring of Pollution. It monitors nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and ground-level ozone. They make up smog.

Three in eight Americans live in counties with F smog scores from the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report. The weight is often racial and economic. According to the research, minorities are 3.6 times more likely than whites to live in a county with several poor pollution grades. In addition, lower-income neighborhoods in North America have higher air pollution.

We know that oil refineries and chemical facilities are in lower-income communities, and poor air quality lowers property prices. “But we’ve never had ground-based sensors stationed in every area to validate it,” NASA’s TEMPO program applications lead John Haynes stated in a March 30 press statement.


NASA’s new air quality monitoring instrument, TEMPO. Image: Maxar via NASA

TEMPO eliminates blind areas. It will measure the light that atmospheric gases and particles bounce back into space. Scientists can identify compounds by their light wavelengths.

TEMPO will ride a satellite rotating at the same pace as Earth in a fixed position above the equator. As a result, the geostationary orbit will provide hourly observations across North America for the first time. Before TEMPO, satellites with equivalent instruments could only measure once a day.

TEMPO can monitor pollution at 4 square miles resolution (10 square kilometers). It will show which neighborhoods have the highest air pollution. Such data can help federal organizations like the EPA improve air quality projections.

Earth will get TEMPO data many months after launch. The equipment should power up in late May or early June, but calibration and data validation will take longer.

NASA hosts TEMPO on a commercial satellite. In a press event this week, NASA said this new commercial model would make sending experiments into orbit cheaper.

The Falcon9 rocket carrying TEMPO launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, around 12:30 AM ET on Friday. Intelsat 40e, a communications satellite, provides internet to flights and cruise ships.

NASA’s pollution-monitoring satellite system includes TEMPO (ESA). South Korea’s 2020 equipment measures Asia’s pollution hourly. Sentinel-4 will complete the constellation and cover Europe and North Africa in 2024.

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