Air Quality Monitoring from High Altitude Platforms

Astrium Ltd, with University of Leicester and Lindstrand Technologies Ltd

Pathfinder Project (typically 6-12 months duration)

The aim of this seed-corn study is to provide an assessment and roadmap for the development of sensor and platform technology for High Altitude Platforms (HAP’s). HAP’s present an intermediate step to a space flight opportunity for air quality measurements (e.g. MTG and post-EPS), and could enable early high-priority science to be obtained relating to such space missions, as well as potentially offering an unrivalled observation platform for regional science and monitoring in their own right.

Science and Operational Need

By maintaining a roughly stationary position with respect to the ground, HAP’s provide an observing platform for both the surface (e.g. cities) and the atmosphere (e.g. pollution). This novel application of technology promises to revolutionise traditional remote sensing by providing near-continuous observations, excellent spatial resolution, low operating costs, and long mission life, giving the prospect of dedicated platforms covering environmental "hotspots". The ability to recover payloads easily from HAP’s also offers a test-bed for the development of EO spaceborne instrumentation. As well as rapid deployment, HAP’s can provide benefits of close range (hence high resolution), high data capacity, and flexible configuration. HAP’s could fill a distinct niche as a low cost technology between global-monitoring EO satellites and in-situ terrestrial systems.

Project Objectives

The study assessed the preliminary design for such a system. The main project objectives are:

  • To define the key requirements for an air quality monitoring service that addresses public environmental interests (e.g. pollution “hotspot” monitoring, emergency support, legislation enforcement).
  • To define the suite of technology and integration required to support this service, and to establish how the technology will meet the requirements.
  • To assess how this technology may subsequently be developed into a space flight opportunity for air quality measurements.
  • To secure funding to help design / develop a prototype flight demonstrator in a second CEOI study phase or through direct NERC funding of HAP’s.

The new technology material for an airship application is a skin that needs to have an extremely low porosity to helium as there is no means of topping up for any losses. It must also be extremely light due to the vast area of the envelope. There is plenty of experience with solar cells at this altitude, but fuel cell and electrolyser technology would have to be adapted for these flight conditions. The study is led by Astrium Ltd, with University of Leicester and Lindstrand Technologies Ltd. The contact point for further information is Dr Nic Leveque, Astrium Ltd.