Final stages of European Space Agency’s project to monitor pollution across the planet marked in Stevenage

Airbus spacecraft launch

Airbus spacecraft launch - Credit: Archant

A team who have spent the past four years constructing a spacecraft to monitor the world’s atmosphere saw the fruits of their labour realised today.

Harry Forster, Netherlands Space Office and David Parker, UK Space Agency, during Airbus spacecraft

Harry Forster, Netherlands Space Office and David Parker, UK Space Agency, during Airbus spacecraft launch - Credit: Archant

The Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite has been assembled at Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage and will allow the European Space Agency to monitor pollution, UV levels and the ozone layer to a much more accurate degree than before.

Speaking to the Comet today at the base in Gunnels Wood Road, the UK Space Agency chief executive David Parker said: “The spacecraft will be able to measure pollution, particularly atmospheric pollution, to a city level scale. It is a really important contribution to the world and the team have done a fantastic job.

Andy Pilbeam, AIT Manager, during Airbus spacecraft launch

Andy Pilbeam, AIT Manager, during Airbus spacecraft launch - Credit: Archant

“It started in December 2011 and now we have a completed spacecraft. It has gone from an idea to being launched in that time and that is a first for Stevenage.”

The project is designed to plug the gap between the Envisat satellite, which monitored the Earth’s climate until 2012, and the Sentinel-5 craft which will perform the job when it is launched in 2021.

Airbus spacecraft launch

Airbus spacecraft launch - Credit: Archant

The project was a collaboration between the UK and the Netherlands space agencies.

Airbus’ Netherlands branch worked with the Netherlands Space Office and Surrey Satellites UK to build the climate monitoring instrument, called TROPOMI, while the satellite was built at the Gunnels Wood Road site.

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TROPOMI will measure the planet’s ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide levels at higher levels of accuracy than has been possible up to now. There are two sections to the instrument. The first, called the UVN section, was designed and constructed in the Netherlands and analyses ultra-violet, visible and near infra-red light.

The second is called TROPOMI-SWIR spectrometer and was designed and built by the Optical Payloads Group at SSTL in Kent and analyses short-wave infra-red light using a specially cooled design.

TROPOMI will make accurate measurements of all these pollutants on a grid of seven kilometre squares, allowing scientists to see where pollution is coming from and heading to far more accurately than with current equipment.

Harry Förster is the programme manager for the space office and has worked extensively on the project.

He said it is essential that this job continues to be performed and the improved monitoring levels will allow governments to see how climate change is affecting the planet.

He said: “It isn’t for us but for our children and grandchildren that we protect this planet because air pollution is a global problem we all need to work together to solve.”

Jim Grant was the lead opto-mechanical design engineer at SSTL. He is very proud of the spectrometer’s design which has been described as a beautiful instrument by some of the scientists involved in the project.

He said: “It does feel more and more exciting the further TROPOMI progresses.”

The Precursor craft was assembled in a sealed room in the firm’s factory and will now be shipped off to Toulouse in France for testing before it is launched by a Eurokot rocket in Russia next year.

Mr Parker said: “Half of all climate change is observed from space. This spacecraft is part of the long term picture and we need it.”

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