Maxar to install NASA pollution sensor on commercial satellite

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SAN FRANCISCO — Maxar Technologies plans to install a NASA sensor to monitor air pollution over North America on a commercial communications satellite scheduled to travel to geostationary orbit in 2022, NASA and Maxar announced July 22.

Maxar executives are speaking with multiple customers about flying the payload but have not yet signed a contract with a communications satellite operator to install the Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring Pollution sensor, called TEMPO, on a specific satellite, Al Tadros, Maxar vice president space infrastructure and civil space,” told SpaceNews. “We have a lot of interest in it,” Tadros added.

TEMPO builder Ball Aerospace announced in late 2018 that it delivered TEMPO, a spectrometer designed to observe ultraviolet and visible light, to the NASA Langley Research Center. From its perch in geostationary orbit, TEMPO will provide hourly pollution reports on areas of ten square kilometers during daylight hours.

For the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area, TEMPO will provide measurements for 18 zones, showing how air quality changes throughout the day, said TEMPO principal investigator, Kelly Chance of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. “It will show how cities wake up and go to sleep in pollution,” Chance told SpaceNews.

NASA employed the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center’s Hosted Payload Solutions contract vehicle to solicit TEMPO proposals. The Air Force announced in 2014 that 14 companies qualified for the Hosted Payload Solutions program. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration relied on that contract vehicle when it awarded General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems a $37.9 million contract to install the Argos Advanced Data Collection System on an Orbital Test Bed satellite.

Ball Aerospace built TEMPO alongside a similar instrument, Geostationary Environment Monitoring Spectrometer, scheduled to launch in 2020 on the Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s GEO-Kompsat-2B. TEMPO and GEMS are designed to form a global air quality monitoring constellation with Europe’s Sentinel 4 spectrometer, which is set to fly on Eumetsat’s Meteosat third generation weather satellites.

If the instruments work well, they could pave the way for operational air pollution monitoring systems, Chance said.

Maxar Technologies has performed studies for NASA on “accommodating TEMPO on our 1300 bus,” Tadros said. “That is the offer we submitted and that is the plan for launching it by 2022.”

“TEMPO payload completed production and was fully qualified last year,” Stephen Hall, NASA’s TEMPO project manager, said in a statement. “Now, with Maxar leading the charge on integrating TEMPO onto a commercial satellite, the mission will rapidly progress to launch and operations.”

Chance said in a statement, “TEMPO will revolutionize the way NASA samples and analyzes critical air quality measurements.” NASA partners who will help analyze TEMPO data include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Center for Atmospheric Research, U.S. universities, Mexico and Canada, he added.