Most of the world’s population lives in places where air pollution exceeds standards that are aimed at protecting human health. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is one of these pollutants and it is found in high concentrations in cities around the world. It’s generated mostly through combustion and is emitted from cars, transport vehicles and power plants. NO2 can also lead to the formation of atmospheric haze, smog and acid rain. Because NO2 is reactive in the atmosphere, it varies greatly in time and space within the atmosphere. However, this variability cannot be captured by available monitoring approaches.

Associate Professor and Aerospace Research Lab Director Chris Goyne is teaming with UVA Professors Sally Pusede from Environmental Sciences and Michael Skrutskie from Astronomy to build a spacecraft that will measure NO2 in the air within cities across the United States and internationally. The new measurements will ultimately result in an order of magnitude higher for spatial resolution than current space-based instruments provide. The data will be used to develop an understanding of the emission, chemistry and transport of NO2 in the atmosphere and to improve interpretation of current satellite NO2 observations. To obtain the data, a scientific instrument—a near infra-red slit spectrograph—and a spacecraft bus will be built and launched into space in order to collect measurements from low Earth orbit.

The team will build prototype components of the spectrograph in order to increase its technology readiness level and further develop the concept of the scientific instrument and spacecraft. The successful project will result in the establishment of new research for the University of Virginia that will form a nucleus for collaboration with external government partners. Seed funding for the project has been obtained through the University of Virginia’s 3 Cavaliers Program.