NASA sets 2022 launch for air quality sensor that will provide hourly updates across North America

Darrell Etherington

NASA is sending to orbit aboard a Maxar 1300-class satellite (whose primary mission is to provide commercial satellite communications for Intelsat customers) a payload that could help improve air quality forecasting, the agency announced today. NASA's new air quality measurement tool is called "TEMPO," which stands for Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution, and it'll provide hourly measurements of the levels of gases in the atmosphere over North America, including ozone, nitrogen dioxide and aerosols. That'll paint a picture of the relative air quality, and that info will be available publicly so that weather monitoring agencies and others can provide more accurate and up-to-date air quality information to people as part of their forecasts.

The TEMPO tool won't launch until 2022, however, which is when the Maxar satellite, called Intelsat 40e, is set to be delivered to geostationary orbit. It's not uncommon for NASA to host its scientific payloads on commercial communications satellites, providing an opportunity for NASA to effectively hitch a ride on a large geostationary satellite that'll cover the territory it wants to cover, while offering significant cost savings versus putting up a dedicated spacecraft.

Ball Aerospace developed the TEMPO instrument for NASA, and it'll be transported to Maxar's Palo Alto-based satellite manufacturing facility for incorporation into the Intelsat 40e vehicle ahead of its scheduled launch. The instrument will also be used alongside other tools, including one from the European Space Agency, and South Korea's Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer, which will all combine to provide a more comprehensive and detailed picture of air quality across the northern hemisphere.

NASA has already contributed to improved air quality index (AQI) information, boosting accuracy of the EPA's daily AQI by as much as 38%, according to tests conducted in August after satellite data refreshed every three hours was incorporated into that index's calculation. Continuing to improve the quality and accuracy of these and other measures of air quality could potentially have tremendous impact on the lives of us here on Earth as air quality worsens due to the impact people have on the environment and airborne pollutants.

TechCrunch is hosting its first-ever dedicated space event in 2020 -- TechCrunch Sessions: Space, happening June 25 in LA. Get your tickets now!