Space-based orbiter to track Earth’s pollutants to make 2017 launch

Nineteen-hundred and seventy-seven is the year the first “Star Wars” movie (Episode 4) – “A New Hope” – hit the theater circuit. Communities coast-to-coast were all abuzz with excitement. The pre-movie-release hype, it seemed, was, well, for lack of a better term, astronomical.

Twenty-seventeen, exactly 40 years after the “Star Wars” debut, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA, is planning to put an instrument capable of monitoring ground-based air pollutants in orbit above the Earth’s equator at an altitude of 22,000 miles.

To put that kind of distance in perspective, on October 14, 2012, Felix Baumgartner, was lifted in a capsule attached to a helium balloon to a record altitude of 128,100 feet (39,045 meters). That’s a distance of 24 miles. This pollution monitor, if its launching comes to pass, will best that height by 21,976 miles which is roughly 917 times that.

But it’s not the math here that matters – it’s the mission.

In a Nov. 8, 2012 NASA news release titled: “New Space Sensor as a Hosted Payload to Track Air Pollution Across North America,” revealed is that: “NASA has selected a proposal from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., to build the first space-based instrument to monitor major air pollutants across the North American continent hourly during daytime.”

It was a proposal that was competitively selected and NASA explains that the TEMPO or Tropospheric Emissions Monitoring of Pollution apparatus “will for the first time make accurate observations of tropospheric pollution concentrations of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, formaldehyde, and aerosols with high resolution and frequency over North America.”

This may not be the news that “Star Wars” was in order of magnitude in terms of it resonating with the public, but it is just as if not more noteworthy.

Imagine the capability being there to investigate earth-based pollutants from that high up.

The NASA release notes: “After being deployed on a geostationary satellite, TEMPO will observe Earth’s atmosphere in ultraviolet and visible wavelengths to determine concentrations of many key atmospheric pollutants. From geostationary orbit, these observations can be made several times each day when North America is facing the sun instead of once per day, which is the case with current satellites orbiting a few hundred miles above the surface. Other space agencies are planning similar observations over Europe and Asia after TEMPO is in orbit, allowing for a formation of a constellation of geostationary air quality satellites.”

Carrying this idea one step farther, think what the implications would be should the day arrive that a space-based instrument gets deployed that can disintegrate surface pollution. That truly would be something; extraordinary, stupendous even!

Something to write home about, whether outer-space- or Earth-based? You betcha!

Image above: NASA

Published by Alan Kandel