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UK-built Sentinel satellite to track air pollution

UK-built Sentinel satellite to track air pollution
From BBC - October 12, 2017

A UK-assembled satellite is set to go into orbit shortly to monitor air quality around the globe.

Its Dutch-designed instrument will make daily maps of polluting gases and particles known to be harmful to health.

Called Sentinel-5P, the spacecraft is a contribution to the EU's Copernicus Earth-monitoring programme.

S5P will ride to orbit on a converted Russian intercontinental ballistic missile called a Rockot.

Lift-off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome is scheduled for 12:27 local time (10:27 BST; 09:27 GMT).

Controllers will know they have a functioning satellite in position above the planet about an hour-and-a-half later when they first receive a radio communication from S5P.

The EU, with the help of the European Space Agency (Esa), is developing a constellation of satellites as part of its Copernicus programme.

Five of the platforms are already up; many more will follow in the next few years.

All called Sentinels, they are tasked with taking the pulse of the planet and gathering data that can inform the policies of member states - everything from fisheries management to urban planning.

The Sentinels, in number and capability, dwarf anything planned elsewhere in the world, and Sentinel-5 Precursor, to give it its full title, is one of the big UK contributions to the whole endeavour.

The satellite's TROPOMI instrument has been developed by a consortium led from the Netherlands' national meteorological agency (KNMI), and will build daily global maps of key gases that contribute to pollution.

These include nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide. All affect the air we breathe and therefore our health, and a number of them also play a role in climate change.

The "Precursor" in the spacecraft's name references the fact that the TROPOMI instrument comes before a near-identical sensor that will eventually fly on Europe's next-generation weather satellites from 2021.

Putting up 5P now also ensures there is no data gap in observations should an ageing, previous-generation instrument suddenly fail. That sensor, called OMI, flies on the US space agency's Aura satellite.

Although still in good health, it is operating far beyond its design lifetime. But TROPOMI is more than just a gap-filler, says KNMI's principal investigator Pepijn Veefkind because it is a step on in performance with a tenfold improvement in resolution on what has gone before.

What is the Copernicus programme?

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