On Friday morning, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket, creating a stunning display as it ascended. The primary aim of the rocket was to carry an Intelsat communication satellite into orbit. The satellite had onboard a NASA-Smithsonian spectrometer valued at $210 million. This sophisticated device was designed to accurately measure and monitor North America’s air quality and pollution levels.
The Intelsat 40E satellite has been designed to serve two distinct functions. Firstly, it will facilitate broadband data services for mobile users, including commercial air and sea passengers. The Intelsat 40E satellite will also carry the Tropospheric Emissions: Monitoring of Pollution (TEMPO) light analyzer, specifically designed to detect and analyze pollution levels in the troposphere. This instrument will be operated using the satellite as its primary platform, enabling a vast amount of air quality-related data to be collected. This data will be essential in helping researchers create accurate air quality forecasts and enhancing their knowledge of atmospheric chemistry. It’s worth highlighting that TEMPO is unique in that it’s the first instrument to track air pollution levels across the Americas hourly via satellite technology.
During an interview with CBS News, Laura Judd, a member of the TEMPO project team, pointed out the resemblance between satellite images of hurricanes and TEMPO’s capability to provide visual representations of “chemical weather.” TEMPO will use a light analyzer to reveal the presence and movement of previously undetectable atmospheric pollutants. This information is critical to developing a more comprehensive understanding of atmospheric chemistry and predicting air quality. Judd’s comparison of hurricane imagery to “chemical weather” highlights the importance of TEMPO’s mission to improve our knowledge of air pollution and its impact on our environment.
At 12:30 a.m. EDT, SpaceX’s 23rd launch of the year took off with an explosive start from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The nine first-stage engines of the Falcon 9 rocket roared to life, creating a thunderous noise that echoed throughout the launch site. The launch was a testament to SpaceX‘s continued success in space exploration and ability to execute missions precisely and efficiently.
The Falcon 9 rocket put on a dazzling display as it ascended over the Atlantic Ocean, captivating observers with its seamless acceleration. The rocket’s engines burned through propellants and shed weight to generate an incredible 1.7 million pounds of thrust. The thunderous roar of the engines echoed throughout the night, disrupting the stillness and marking the rocket’s astonishing power. SpaceX’s successful launch further underscored its reputation as a space exploration pioneer and cemented its position as one of the field’s most innovative and successful companies.
Following a textbook launch, the Falcon 9’s first stage separated from the rocket and approached an offshore droneship. The second stage of the launch involved two engine firings in achieving the desired orbit for the payload deployment. A satellite called Intelsat 40E, manufactured by Maxar and weighing 13,500 pounds, was successfully released 32 minutes after the launch. It had its thrusters to move towards its operational orbit at 22,300 miles above the equator, 91 degrees west longitude. When it reaches its target location, it will remain stationary above North America, taking 24 hours to complete one orbit.
Intelsat 40E satellite’s primary objective is to provide internet services for mobility services, including commercial airline passengers, regional business jets, and cruise passengers, with the added advantage of assisting in disaster recovery. The satellite will undergo calibration and checkout until the end of May, followed by commercial operations. The Ball Aerospace-built TEMPO instrument will be activated to gather data, which Intelsat will collect and transmit to the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory researchers for analysis.
NASA’s TEMPO project manager, Kevin Daugherty, has emphasized the uniqueness of TEMPO, which uses a hosted payload business model to place instruments like it into orbit at a lower cost. Unlike satellites in low-Earth orbit that provide a once-a-day observation simultaneously, TEMPO will ride on a geostationary communications satellite, making it possible to observe the same region of Earth every day, mainly in greater North America. TEMPO’s miniature spectrometer, about the size of a washing machine, uses ultraviolet-visible light to divide the sunlight into 2,000 wavelengths.
Capturing the chemical fingerprints of atmospheric gases will help researchers determine their concentrations, movements, and potential threats to public health. TEMPO data will be used with ground-based instruments to enhance computer models of atmospheric chemistry, resulting in more accurate air quality forecasts. Scientists are integrating TEMPO data into their models as a constraint to improve them.