ESA details construction of Sentinel-5P satellite and Tropomi instrument
NOORDWIJK, Netherlands — The Sentinel-5P satellite was launched atop a Russian Rockot rocket at 12:37 p.m. local time (5:37 a.m. EDT / 09:27 GMT) Oct. 13, 2017, from Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. During a webcast before liftoff, a number of the key players in the development of the mission discussed building the satellite and its state-of-the-art Tropomi instrument from the European Space Agency’s technical heart in the Netherlands.
The TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument, also called Tropomi, is a spectrometer that measures ultraviolet, visible, near visible, and short-wavelength infrared to monitor trace gases in Earth’s atmosphere. It is the largest and only instrument flying on the Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite – also known as Sentinel-5P – and was designed and built in the Netherlands.
Since different gas molecules in the atmosphere absorb light of a certain wavelength, Tropomi can determine the quantity of each gas present in the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere and map a multitude of trace gases such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide, and aerosols, all of which affect the air quality on Earth.
With a resolution of 4.3 × 2.2 miles (7 × 3.5 kilometers), Sentinel-5P has the potential to detect air pollution over individual cities. Tropomi will help in identifying pollution hotspots where public health could be at risk. The availability of accurate and up-to-date information will help improve forecasts of air quality, climate change, and understand more about why holes form in the ozone layer.
Before the live webcast started, the Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs, Henk Kamp, visited the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) and was shown around by the director of the facility, Franco Ongaro.
The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs is responsible for the Dutch space budget and controls the Netherlands Space Office (NSO). Several ESA directors, scientists, and investigators that worked on the Sentinel-5P satellite talked about their work to the minister and the importance of this satellite, the Dutch involvement, and the huge amount of work that they put into building this satellite and the Tropomi instrument.
A partnership between Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, SRON, and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research, the spacecraft was built on behalf of the NSO and ESA. It is the first Copernicus mission dedicated to monitoring Earth’s atmosphere.
Tropomi is designed in a way that it can monitor air quality more precisely than ever before. The Sentinel-5P satellite and its instrument fly at an altitude of 513 miles (825 kilometers) above Earth.
Because of the satellites polar orbit, the Tropomi instrument can scan and map the whole atmosphere in one day, every single day. It will measure the light reflected by the atmosphere and compare it with direct sunlight.
In the future, both the geostationary Sentinel-4 and polar-orbiting Sentinel-5 satellite missions will monitor the composition of the atmosphere for Copernicus Atmosphere Services. Until then, the Sentinel-5P satellite and Tropomi will play a key role in monitoring and tracking air pollution. The Tropomi instrument is expected to work for seven years.
A native of the Netherlands, van Oene became ‘infected’ with the ‘space virus’ by an enthusiastic school teacher in 1981. Since 1994 he has been a freelance space photographer and writer for magazines and websites in Holland, Belgium and ‘Spaceflight’, the magazine of the British Interplanetary Society. van Oene is also the co-founder and CFO of SPACEPATCHES.NL. This Netherlands-based foundation currently produces all the official Soyuz crew patches for the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos.