European Satellite Monitors Air Pollution in High-Def


The European Space Agency (ESA) last week launched an advanced air-pollution-monitoring satellite.

The 1,800-pound Sentinel-5P was carried into orbit Friday from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia.

Its mission (which it had no choice but to accept) is to map the global distribution of dangerous air pollutants; if all goes according to plan, the operation should begin in full six months from now.

Sentinel-5P inside Rockot fairing (via ESA/ATG medialab)

Sentinel-5P (or Precursor) lifted off the morning of Oct. 13; an hour and a half later, ESA controllers in Germany made first contact with the satellite.

“The Sentinel-5P satellite is now safely in orbit so it is up to our mission control teams to steer this mission into its operational life and maintain it for the next seven years or more,” ESA Director General Jan Woerner said in a statement.

This marks the sixth Sentinel satellite in the Copernicus program—a joint venture between ESA and the European Commission; it is the first, however, assigned to measuring the chemistry of Earth’s atmosphere.

Which it will accomplish using the on-board, “state-of-the-art” Tropomi (TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument).

Developed by ESA and the Netherlands Space Office, Tropomi (which I hope is as fun to use as it is to say) will map various trace gases—nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide, aerosols—that affect our air, health, and climate.

“Having Sentinel-5P in orbit will give us daily and global views at our atmosphere with a precision we never had before,” Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director of Earth Observation Programs, said.

This is the first Copernicus mission dedicated to monitoring our atmosphere (via ESA/ATG medialab)

Boasting a massively high resolution of 4-by-2 miles, Tropomi will help scientists determine from where air pollution is coming, and how the wind spreads it.

“Our historic data records, together with the long-term perspective of the Copernicus satellite program, opens the doors for generating datasets spanning decades—a prerequisite to understanding our ever-changing Earth,” Aschbacher added.

As its name suggests, Sentinel-5P (built to plug a data gap left after the 2012 retirement of Envisat, according to Space.com) is a precursor to the polar-orbiting Sentinel-5 satellite, scheduled for launch in 2021.

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