Canadian ‘solution to pollution’ transmits first data from space

A space-borne pollution monitor designed and built at York University has transmitted its first data to Earth.

The Argus micro-spectrometer, launched in April aboard the University of Toronto’s CanX-2 micro-satellite, can accurately detect sources of industrial pollution on earth, to a resolution of one kilometre.

“We’re very excited about this. It’s a Canadian first,” says principal investigator Brendan Quine (right), a professor in York’s Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering.

Argus will enable scientists to determine local levels of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to climate change by recording infrared spectra, which contain information about atmospheric composition. Developed in partnership with Thoth Technology Inc., it is the first space instrument to be built and tested in York’s space engineering laboratory, part of the University’s Centre for Research in Earth & Space Science (CRESS).

The device, which is small enough to fit in the palm of an adult’s hand, transmits data via infrared radiation emitted to space.

“In order to get it onto the micro-satellite, we had to miniaturize everything,” says Quine. To meet that challenge, his team reduced a spectrometer – normally the size of a laser printer – to the size of a box of paper-clips. The resulting instrument weighs only 230 grams.

Left: The official CanX-2 mission patch

Analysis of data will take months. Quine is confident of its value in the fight against global warming. “A global pollution-monitoring system is critical in order to quantify progress towards emission-reduction targets,” he says.

Quine is currently seeking partners for more widespread deployment. “We need to fly a network of about one hundred Argus instruments in order to quantify pollution accurately and build detailed pollution maps.”

York University is home to the only undergraduate space engineering program in Canada.