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Space-based Probe To Measure Air Pollution

by Glenn Hess
November 19, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 47

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 North America. The instrument—to be completed in 2017 at a projected cost of $90 million—will hitch a ride on a commercial satellite that will orbit Earth at about 22,000 miles above its surface. After being deployed, the space sensor will observe Earth’s atmosphere in ultraviolet and visible light wavelengths to determine concentrations of a variety of atmospheric pollutants. NASA says the instrument will more accurately measure tropospheric pollution concentrations of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, formaldehyde, and aerosols. From geostationary orbit, NASA explains, 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 Earth’s surface. “We expect to see significant advances in air-quality research,” says John M. Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “The vantage point of geostationary orbit offers the potential for many new opportunities in other areas of Earth system science.”


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