Successful flight for aircraft carrying Leicesters pioneering NO2 scanner

Our University has successfully carried out the flight of an aircraft equipped with pioneering space technology to measure air pollution, in particular nitrogen dioxide (NO2), in the environment.

The team, from our Department of Physics and Astronomy, flew the instrument for approximately 90 minutes on a hired aircraft from Stoughton airfield in Leicester on Wednesday 7 February 2018.

The major survey was carried out over Peterborough and Cambridgeshire with some data collected over Leicester.

The aircraft was equipped with the CompAQS imaging spectrometer, a cutting-edge instrument developed by our University and partners which is able to create detailed images of air pollution. In space it would produce images with seven times the spatial resolution of existing space missions such as the EU European Space Agency Sentinel 5 Precursor mission.

The instrument is part of a major initiative to improve the UK’s technological leadership in space instrumentation for Earth Observation, developing technologies to a higher level and supporting the Government’s Research and Industrial Strategy.

CompAQS monitors visible light and measures how much light is lost at specific wavelengths absorbed by NO2.

Using this information, researchers can reconstruct the distribution of the gas and produce data on how polluted parts of the landscape are, including motorway junctions, airports, car parks and urban environments. This is valuable data for urban planners and legislators to mitigate the impact of pollution on health and life chances.

Jordan White, the CompAQS Instrument Scientist from the University of Leicester who operated the instrument during the aircraft flight, said: “CompAQS has been an exciting and rewarding project to be involved in. From design to build to test to airborne demo; a large group of engineers and scientists all had their part to play in the great progress that has been made in providing a solution to high resolution mapping of urban air pollution.”

Professor Mark Sims, who leads the instrument upgrade programme, said: “This flight is the culmination of 3 years design, build and test by the team. It is great to see CompAQS working and functioning as expected.”