Air quality monitoring rocket launch in Cheshire

University of Leicester scientists and aerial survey firm Bluesky research how air pollution dissipates away from earth

A rocket equipped with air pollution monitoring equipment — thought to be the world’s first — was due to launch in Cheshire this morning (February 4) by University of Leicester scientists and aerial mapping firm Bluesky.

The 4.1 metre (14 foot) tall rocket, known as Tempest, integrates micro sensors and other technologies to record how air pollution gases such as nitrogen dioxide dissipate with vertical distance from the earth.

The Tempest rocket was due to launch this morning (February 4) at 10.30am

The Tempest rocket was due to launch this morning (February 4) at 10.30am

Developed by space products firm Starchaser Industries, the rocket can reach speeds of up to 200mph and after launching from Capesthorne Hall in Cheshire, will hit an altitude of 3,000 feet before it is recovered via parachute.

In addition to air pollution monitoring sensors, Tempest will also be carrying electronic systems, an experimental GPS package and video cameras.

Pupils and teachers from more than 30 schools attended the launch, which is part of a wider air pollution mapping project supported by Bluesky. The project has also seen monitoring work across cities from ground sensors, cars and planes.

Dr Roland Leigh, academic supervisor at the University of Leicester, said: “Air quality continues to be a critical issue in our urbanising society, requiring us to explore novel solutions for monitoring, management and damage mitigation. We are grateful to Starchaser Industries for the opportunity to test our novel air quality monitoring techniques as part of this spectacular launch event.

He added: “This launch provides an outstanding opportunity to engage the next generation, not only with the excellent rocketry work of Starchaser Industries, but also with the concept of environmental monitoring — a key tool for the ongoing management of our climate.”

Results from the monitoring will add to information obtained from Bluesky aerial survey aircraft, which monitored visible light to measure how much light is lose at specific wavelengths absorbed by nitrogen dioxide (see story).

This same technology has also been used as part of the CityScan project, with devices fitted on tall buildings in Leicester, Bologna and London during the Olympics to build 3D maps of pollution across the cities.

James Eddy, Bluesky’s technical director and industrial associate at the University of Leicester, added: “We have already had great success mapping air pollution from an aerial survey plane giving us a better understanding of how dangerous gases, such as nitrogen dioxide, operate in the vertical plane. However, we hope this launch will take air pollution monitoring to another level.”


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