York scientists monitoring pollution from space win aeronautics award

York University researchers who designed and built a miniature space-borne pollution monitor are part of a team of Canadians being honoured with a 2010 Alouette Award from the Canadian Aeronautics & Space Institute (CASI).

The annual prize, one of the top accolades for the advancement of space technology in Canada, was awarded Tuesday to the CanX-2 microsatellite team, headed by the University of Toronto. York’s instrument, a microspectrometer dubbed Argus, is currently riding aboard the microsatellite, which launched in April 2008. Argus can accurately detect sources of industrial pollution on Earth, to a resolution of one kilometre.

"We’re very excited to be part of the team receiving this award," said Argus principal investigator Brendan Quine, a professor in York’s Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering. "Argus was a Canadian first and we’re delighted we could make it happen at York."

Right: Brendan Quine with the Alouette Award

The device, which is small enough to fit in the palm of an adult’s hand, transmits data via infrared radiation emitted to space. It enables scientists to determine local levels of carbon dioxide and other climate change gases 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). Argus’ current mandate includes monitoring levels of ash from recent volcanic eruptions in Iceland.

CASI introduced the Alouette Award in 1995 to recognize an outstanding contribution to the advancement of Canadian space technology, science or engineering. It may be awarded to an individual, a group, an organization or group of organizations, as appropriate to the nature of the contribution. Preference is given to contributions that lead to new benefits for mankind.

For more information, visit the CASI Alouette Award Web site.