Leicester scientists complete maiden flight with CompAQS

University of Leicester scientists have successfully completed the first flight of an aircraft equipped with cutting edge technology designed to measure nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere.

The team, from the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, flew the instrument for approximately 90 minutes on a hired aircraft from Stoughton airfield in Leicester last Wednesday (7 February).

Leicester air quality

Leicester from the air

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

The aircraft was equipped with the CompAQS imaging spectrometer, an instrument developed by the University and partners which is able to create detailed images of air pollution.

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


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 researchers claim.

Using this information, researchers can reconstruct the distribution of the pollutant and produce data on how polluted parts of the landscape are, including motorway junctions, airports, car parks and urban environments. According to the team behind the project, this data could be used by 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.”

The instrument is part of an 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.

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


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