Revolutionary NASA satellite providing better data on air quality

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - NASA and the College of Nursing at the University of Alabama in Huntsville are working together to help us better understand the impact pollution has on our health. A new instrument will orbit the earth to give experts the knowledge they need to advance medical research.


As a parent, you can check the air quality to determine if your child should play outside, especially if they have severe asthma. That data typically feeds you information once a day -- targeted for each county, but there's a new NASA satellite that will give air quality information every hour of the day specific to your location.

"But then how can we take that information and turn into something that's actionable for a patient who has a chronic condition or a clinician who cares for these patients?" Associate professor Susan Alexander works for the College of Nursing at UAH. Her department hosted Thursday's meteorology conference because NASA has a new satellite that'll give medical experts the ability to make better predictions on air quality.


NASA's program manager on health and air quality John Haynes said, "it's going to be able to get down to a cubit meter resolution of these pollutants."

The "Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring Pollution" or TEMPO satellite, which hasn't launched yet, will capture the entire country.  Current air quality satellites are only capturing portions of the United States at a time.

"It does that by using techniques we've been developing since 1985," said Dr. Kelly Chance, the TEMPO principal investigator and senior physicist for the Center of Astrophysics.

Alexander said medical professionals can hopefully figure out how to help patients prevent their illnesses from worsening. "Pre-launch activities are extremely important," Alexander said. "We know that when TEMPO launches and the data becomes streamed, it's just going to be a fire hose of data."


NASA's satellite will launch in 2022.

South Korea and the European Space Agency will launch their own similar satellites around the same time.  All three will provide targeted air quality data for the entire Northern Hemisphere. Visuals showcase what the satellite will look like in more detail.


The TEMPO satellite will provide data in four major areas:

  1. Air quality
  2. Planning and assessment
  3. Emissions detection
  4. Health, environmental and agricultural impacts

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