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Dutch space industry and NASA endorse collaboration in research on the Earth’s atmosphere

28 Oct 2019

A Dutch space industry consortium and NASA confirmed their collaboration in research on the Earth’s atmosphere on 23 October at the Dutch NL Space pavilion during the 70th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Washington DC. Supported by TNO, space research institute SRON and Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands are jointly developing the aerosol instrument SPEXone for NASA’s PACE satellite, which will be launched in 2022.

From left to right: Kees Buijsrogge (director TNO Space), Maarten Schippers (CEO Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands), André Haspels (NL ambassador to the US), Michael Wise (general and scientific director SRON), Sandra Cauffman (NASA Headquarters), George Morrow (director NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), Andre Dress (PACE Project Manager, NASA), André Kuipers (astronaut), Harm van de Wetering (director NSO), Jeremy Werdell (researcher, NASA). Credit: NASA Goddard/Taylor Mickal.

During the IAC it was confirmed that the Dutch aerosol instrument SPEXone will soon be accompanying NASA’s PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud & Ocean Ecosystem) observatory. PACE identifies various factors that affect the climate and, in addition to SPEXone, has two other scientific instruments on board: the Ocean Color Instrument OCI and the cloud polarimeter HARP-2.

SPEXone
SPEXone is being developed by space research institute SRON and Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands, with support from opto-mechanical experts from TNO. SRON and Airbus DS NL are responsible for the design, assembly and testing of the instrument. The scientific leadership is in the hands of SRON. SPEXone is a public-private initiative established with the financial support of the Netherlands Space Office (NSO), NWO, SRON and Airbus DS NL.

Unravelling the influence of aerosols on the climate
SPEXone will determine the properties of aerosols. Aerosols are small particles such as soot, ash and desert dust in our atmosphere and have a major impact on climate change and air pollution. Their precise role is insufficiently known, but most aerosols reflect light, giving them a cooling effect on the Earth. Through absorption they can also have a warming effect. SPEXone will measure the properties of the aerosols (such as size, composition, shape and their absorbing and reflecting capacity) through the (de)polarisation that the particles give to the sunlight as they reflect the light. In order to determine the relevant aerosol properties, it is necessary to measure the polarisation very accurately. SPEXone is able to do this by applying a new technique; the instrument modulates the state of polarisation of the incident light depending on the colour, so that intensity and degree of polarisation can be measured simultaneously as a continuous function of the wavelength.

 

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