NASA has launched TEMPO to monitor air pollution in North America

NASA sent a powerful new tool into space overnight to track air pollution. If all goes well, it should be able to zoom in to see how air quality changes from neighborhood to neighborhood across North America. This could fill in the huge data gaps that hide disparities when it comes to who has to live with the most pollution.

The tool is called TEMPO, in short the Tropospheric Emissions Monitoring Tool for Pollution. It will keep three harmful pollutants: nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and ozone at ground level. Together, they are the main components of smog.

You should be able to zoom in to see how air quality changes from neighborhood to neighborhood across North America

Three out of eight Americans live in counties that have received F-s for smog From the American Lung Association’Weather report. This burden tends to fall along ethnic and economic lines. People of color are 3.6 times more likely than white people to live in a county with multiple failing scores for different types of pollution, according to a report. across North AmericaLow-income communities also tend to have more air pollution.

We learned that oil refineries or chemical plants tend to be located in low-income neighborhoods; One of the reasons for declining property values ​​is due to poor air quality. John Haynes, chief of NASA’s TEMPO Program Applications, said on March 30 press release.

TEMPO is supposed to help eliminate those blind spots. To do this, it will measure the light that gases and particles in the atmosphere reflect off back into space. Scientists can distinguish between different materials by the unique wavelengths of light they reflect.

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Crucially, TEMPO will be aboard a satellite that is sailing at the same rate as Earth’s rotation at a fixed point over the equator. This is called a geostationary orbit, and it will allow the instrument to take hourly measurements over North America for the first time. Before TEMPO, other satellites with similar instruments could only take measurements once a day.

The TEMPO system can also monitor pollution with high accuracy up to 4 square miles (10 square kilometers). This is how you will be able to find out which neighborhoods have to deal with the most air pollution. Federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, could also use this data in the future to issue more accurate air quality forecasts.

It will take several more months after launch for data from TEMPO to be available on Earth. The instrument should be commissioned in late May or early June, after which it will take some time to calibrate the instrument and validate its data.

TEMPO is what NASA calls a hosted payload, which means it’s carried by a private satellite rather than by NASA’s spacecraft. This is a new business model that NASA hopes will make sending its instruments into orbit cheaper, the agency said in a news briefing this week.

Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX go ahead from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 12:30 a.m. ET on Friday with the satellite carrying TEMPO. It is a communications satellite, Intelsat 40e, whose primary purpose is to provide internet service to aircraft and cruise ships.

TEMPO is one part of a constellation of pollution-monitoring satellites that NASA has been developing with South Korea and the European Space Agency (ESA). The South Korean instrument, which monitors hourly pollution over Asia, was launched in 2020. The European Space Agency’s 2024 launch is supposed to complete the constellation and cover Europe and North Africa.

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