Commercial Space Ride Secured for NASA’s New Air Pollution Sensor


July 22, 2019 RELEASE 19-050


NASA’s Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) instrument will provide near-real-time North American air quality information that will be available to the public.

Credits: Ball Aerospace

NASA has secured a host satellite provider and ride into space for an instrument that will dramatically advance our understanding of air quality over North America.

Maxar Technologies of Westminster, Colorado, will provide satellite integration, launch and data transmission services for NASA’s Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO), an Earth science instrument that will observe air pollution over North America in unprecedented detail from a geostationary orbit.

A contract with Maxar was awarded by the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center through its Hosted Payload Solutions contract, a procurement mechanism that provides a pool of qualified vendors that meet the government’s needs for various hosted payload space missions at a cost savings to the government.

Scheduled to fly in 2022 on a 1300-class commercial satellite provided by Maxar, TEMPO will make hourly measurements of atmospheric gases – including ozone, nitrogen dioxide and formaldehyde as well as aerosols – across North America, from a geostationary vantage point 35,786 km (22,236 miles) above Earth’s equator.

While ozone is a major protector of life on Earth and filters out harmful ultraviolet radiation, it is also a greenhouse gas and air pollutant. TEMPO’s new stream of data will provide near-real-time air quality products that will be made publicly available and will help improve air quality forecasting. TEMPO will also enable researchers to improve pollution emission inventories, monitor population exposure, and evaluate effective emission-control strategies.

The TEMPO instrument project is led by Principal Investigator Kelly Chance, from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The instrument was developed by Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, and is in storage awaiting shipment to Maxar’s satellite manufacturing facility in Palo Alto, California.

“With the TEMPO instrument fully spaceflight qualified and safely delivered, we are excited about this important step and look forward to working closely with Maxar for the successful deployment of TEMPO,” said Stephen Hall, TEMPO project manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

TEMPO will contribute to a global air-quality monitoring constellation that will include similar satellites: the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-4, currently in development, and South Korea’s Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer, scheduled to launch in early 2020.

The instrument’s international science team includes partners in North America, Asia and Europe, and is led by Chance and Deputy Principal Investigator Xiong Liu, also from SAO. Scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration play key roles in the TEMPO science team.

In 2012, TEMPO became the first instrument to be awarded by NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder (ESSP) Program in the Earth Venture Instrument Class Series. Earth Venture projects address new scientific priorities using advanced instrumentation carried on airborne platforms, small satellites, or as hosted payloads on larger platforms. The ESSP Program is located at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science programs, visit:


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July 23, 2019 2:48 am

How can Ozone be both a good and essential to all life gas, yet it is said to be both a Greenhouse gas and thus a pollutant.

Someone out there has to be stark raving Mad.


Reply to  Michael
July 23, 2019 3:14 am

and seeing as extreme upper level COLD can create ozone holes… what a waste of time.
i wonder if, when the data comes back and doesnt support the warmists camp will it develop “problems” and go offline?

Rich Davis
Reply to  Michael
July 23, 2019 3:27 am

Of course that’s the same description as for CO2. But I suspect that the distinction with ozone is that it is a real air pollutant when it is present near the surface, whereas CO2 is not.

Reply to  Rich Davis
July 23, 2019 4:56 am

Rich—what is a “real” air pollutant? That seems a very subjective definition.

Reply to  Sheri
July 23, 2019 6:24 am

Ozone near the surface, is bad for anything with lungs. It damages plants, breaks down just about any organic molecules. If that’s not a pollutant, I don’t know what is.

Reply to  Sheri
July 23, 2019 7:16 am

It’s toxic to humans without resorting to extremely high concentrations.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Sheri
July 23, 2019 6:01 pm

Let me just respond Sheri by saying that CO2 is never and nowhere an air pollutant, but is frequently referred to as such.

Sky King
Reply to  Rich Davis
July 23, 2019 5:34 pm

If anyone lived in the LA basin during the late 50s through the 60s they will know the effect of ozone on the lungs. I grew up on the High Desert on the other side of the San Gabriels, but would visit relatives “down below” as we called it. I would always come back home to the desert with a sore chest and raspy throat. I pitied the poor people that had to live there with that.

Reply to  Michael
July 23, 2019 3:34 am

Yes i picked up on that ozone bit. Maybe they just had to say “greenhouse gas” to get the funding. I note that while ozone was listed without comment in the gases being measured, the greenhouse reference was just an add-on. Let’s all hope that TEMPO really is just about detecting pollution – real pollution not fake pollution.

Reply to  Michael
July 23, 2019 3:44 am

It depends where it is. In the stratosphere it blocks UV; at ground level it is an irritant to nasal membranes.
The ‘greenhouse gas’ is irrelevant.

Reply to  Michael
July 23, 2019 3:48 am

Ozone is produced in the stratosphere by the action of short wavelength UV on oxygen, The ozone then goes on to screen out medium and some long wavelength UV. This protects us down here on the surface from getting fried with intensely energetic, sunburn inducing UV. The relatively small amounts of medium and long wavelength UV that do make it through are bad enough. A careless day at the beach serves as a reminder of the energetic nature of UV. This is the good side of ozone.

The bad side:
Ozone in the lower troposphere is produced by the photolytic reaction of VOCs (volatile organic carbon compounds) with oxygen. A similar reaction of NOx (nitrogen oxides) with oxygen also produces ozone. Ozone is a very highly reactive free radical and a strong oxidizing agent. As such it is fairly bad for living things and is quite a strong chemical irritant to people. Abundant VOX and NOx pollution in cities can push ozone levels up to unhealthy levels. Not good.
For completeness, it can be noted that some ground level ozone is natural. A major source is VOX compounds as produced by conifer forests. The VOX here are mostly terpenes and to a lesser extent isoprene, which are members of the same chemical family (although the biochemistry differs).
In the eastern US, both the Great Smokey Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains were named after the bluish haze due to ozone, prominent on hot summer days in both mountain ranges.

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  TonyL
July 23, 2019 5:25 am

TonyL has it right

Ozone in the lower atmosphere is harmful because it is so reactive. It is literally a pollutant down here.

NO and NO2 are interchangeable in sunlight (it reverts to NO at night). It is a product of combustion if the fuel is biomass and to a lesser extent, coal. It’s a product of high temperature combustion (thermal NOx) whether it is in the fuel or not. The N-content biomass is highly variable by a factor of at least 10 depending the part of the plants. Switching from coal to non-woody biomass can greatly increase NO pollution.

It can be reduced (literally, from a chemical perspective) by controlling the combustion conditions after has been released from the fuel, or created thermally from N2. The conditions needed are approximately 750-850 C for 250 milliseconds. That changes two NO to N2 and O2.

Reply to  Michael
July 23, 2019 6:22 am

Ozone down here, bad.
Ozone up there, good.

Bryan A
Reply to  Michael
July 23, 2019 12:18 pm

It is supposed to be GOOD at significantly higher altitudes but BAD below 1000′ (Smog)
I wonder if TEMPO will have an altitude sensor for trace gas levels?
O3 is really good above 20K to 30K but not so good at 1K

July 23, 2019 5:32 am

“NASA’s Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) instrument will provide near-real-time North American air quality information that will be available to the public.”

Somehow their blasé excuses fail to explain what their expensive toy will actually accomplish and how that directly benefits the USA?
Especially since America’s air quality is likely the best it has been for over a hundred years. The few volatile chemicals they mention have been heavily controlled by EPA for decades.

NASA needs to return to space and planetary science far removed from their current attempts to monitor society searching for small and natural polluters.

Reply to  ATheoK
July 23, 2019 7:45 am

Not too hard to find.
Here is some info on TEMPO:
“By measuring sunlight reflected and scattered from the Earth’s surface and atmosphere back to the instrument’s detectors, TEMPO’s ultraviolet and visible light sensors will provide spectra of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and other elements of daily atmospheric chemistry cycles. ”
“The instrument’s optical system resolves a few square miles per pixel, so that pollution can be tracked at sub-urban scales.”
This device probably will not be able to determine emitters of the gasses, but it will show where they are located and concentrated. How the information is used demonstrates more about the users than the data.

July 23, 2019 8:52 am

Where, what geographic area in the USA will this satellite monitor air quality? At 22 thousand miles above the equator how will the data from this satellite be reported? Will it be able to zero in on a given area? A state? A city? How exactly does it separate out various chemical signatures when, e.g., ozone, is found both at altitude and at the surface?

Reply to  Edwin
July 23, 2019 11:02 am

It is orbiting in a geo-synchronous orbit above the western hemisphere. Geo synchronous orbit is distanced from the earth so that the orbit of the satellite moves at the exact same velocity that the Earth rotates, thereby making it appear “stationary” to an observer on Earth. It therefore will always be “parked” in the same spot above the equator seeing both North and South America. Its cameras can resolve down to a few square miles of surface area on Earth, so it will be able to image a town or urban area, but unlike low earth orbit spy satellites it cannot photograph a deck of cards in your hand.
It does not measure air quality as ‘quality’ is a relative value. It measures gas contents of the air. It uses spectrometry and diffraction to detect the absorption bands of the various elements and gasses that constitute Earth’s atmosphere. Whether it discerns atmospheric composition at specific altitude or only monolithically for the entire monitored column of air I do not know.

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