Space and Social Media for Improved Air Quality

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Joana Kamenova, a Space Innovation Facilitator at the Satellite Applications Catapult, joins fellow space social media enthusiasts for the launch of Sentinel-5.

Air pollution is a truly borderless challenge with local, regional and international dimensions that affect our health and the ecosystems around us. The air pollution sources are many and their interactions complex. Pollutants come from agriculture, traffic, power stations, and industrial activity, but weather and changes to weather also have an impact.

So how do space technology and social media together strive to improve the quality of the air we breathe and tackle climate change?

The launch of Sentinel-5P

Sentinel 5P launch eventFriday 13 October saw the launch of a new Earth observation (EO) satellite, Sentinel-5P – part of the Copernicus Programme – which will monitor and map air pollution with a precision that has not been seen before. Its resolution is 10 times greater than other missions focusing on air quality and it will be able to cover the entire globe daily.

The observations received will feed into the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service and all data will also be made available via the ESA Copernicus Open Access Hub. In the critical early days, Sentinel-5P is in good health and the first data acquisition is expected in May 2018.

The UK-Dutch connection

Sentinel 5P launch eventOn board Sentinel-5P is the TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (Tropomi), which will monitor atmospheric gases such as ozone, methane, formaldehyde, aerosol, carbon monoxide, NO2 and SO2 through sensing ultraviolet (UV), visible (VIS), near (NIR) and short-wavelength infrared (SWIR). The instrument is praised for its improved monitoring of methane, the second biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Tropomi is a Dutch-designed instrument, building on existing Dutch heritage in producing air quality monitoring instruments. It was built in the UK by Airbus Defence and Space UK in Stevenage and its development involved around 30 organisations across Europe, including the National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO), University of Leicester and the Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation (CEOI).

The #Sentinerds

Sentinerds at ESTEC for Sentinel-5P launchMultiple events were celebrating the launch of Sentinel-5P across Europe, but I was quite lucky to attend the launch event at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) centre in Noordwijk, Netherlands. The event was a great mixture of experts that led, designed and supported the mission, senior international policy makers, and representatives from the press.

Ireland’s Minister of State for Training and Skills, John Halligan, was also present for the launch, when Ireland signed the Copernicus Agreement that will enable access to data from the Copernicus Sentinel satellites, reinforcing the importance of the Copernicus Programme.

Undoubtedly, however, one of the biggest highlights was the orange crowd of social media enthusiasts that invaded the launch event and that everyone was talking about – the Sentinerds!

The Sentinerds were there by ESA’s Social Space invitation and were selected based on a short application assessing their social media activity and reach. The Sentinerds consisted of around 25 people from different ages, backgrounds (including cardiologist, communication professionals, aerospace engineers and EO specialists) and comprised of 18 different nationalities from Europe and beyond. This was a truly borderless group that gathered together to raise awareness of the importance of satellite data for monitoring air quality.

Prior to launch, the Sentinerds received an exclusive guided tour of ESTEC and a presentation of the capabilities of Sentinel-5P. During the launch there was a special area reserved for the Sentinerds with plenty of power supply to keep the live tweeting and live Facebook streaming uninterrupted. Following launch, there was a one-on-one question time with Sentinel-5P’s Mission Manager, Claus Zehner, and Project Manager, Kevin McMullan.

The Sentinerds’ collective enthusiasm about raising awareness of the latest space technology is infectious, and the whole experience was made even more memorable by the sense of community and purpose in the air. This is not the first Social Space event and its success tells me it will not be the last, so why not follow @social4space and join the Sentinerds in person or virtually in their next quest.