Air pollution mission: NASA, Italian space agency to study 11 most populated cities globally, including Delhi

MAIA mission to use data from Earth observation satellite to help scientists find correlations between air pollution and health problems

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 10 March 2023
The particles in the air, called aerosols, have been linked to respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases and adverse reproductive and birth outcomes. Photo: iStock__

The space agencies of United States and Italy are partnering to investigate the health impacts of air pollution in the world’s most populated cities, including New Delhi. The agencies have also partnered with epidemiologists and health organisations on the satellite mission to study human health and improve lives.

Air pollution has many long-term health effects, like heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory diseases such as emphysema, according to non-profit National Geographic Society. It can also cause long-term damage to people’s nerves, brain, kidneys, liver and may cause congenital disabilities as well.

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National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) will build and launch the Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) missions, NASA announced on March 8, 2023.

The three-year mission will focus on 11 primary target areas: Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Rome, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Barcelona, Spain, Beijing, Johannesburg, New Delhi, Taipei, Taiwan and Tel Aviv.

MAIA is a state-of-the-art satellite instrument producing data that will be used in health studies to examine the health effects of various types of air pollution. The MAIA mission will collect and analyse data from the observatory, sensors on the ground and atmospheric models.

Its measurements of sunlight reflecting off airborne particles will help researchers determine the abundance, size and optical properties of certain pollutants in the atmosphere. 

Using such data in conjunction with surface-based measurements will help researchers decipher the particles’ chemical composition. Those results will then be related to human birth, death and hospitalisation records to answer pressing questions about the health impacts of solid and liquid particles contaminating the air we breathe. 

The mission is set to launch before the end of 2024. the observatory will consist of the PLATiNO-2 satellite, which ASI will provide and a science instrument that will be built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 

The particles in the air, called aerosols, have been linked to respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke and adverse reproductive and birth outcomes, including premature birth and low infant birth weight.

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“Breathing airborne pollution particles has been associated with many health problems, but the toxicity of different particle mixtures has been less well understood,” said David Diner, NASA’s principal investigator for MAIA, in a press statement. 

The observatory’s science instrument contains a pointable spectropolarimetric camera, which captures digital images at multiple angles in the ultraviolet, visible, near-infrared and shortwave infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. 

This data will help the MAIA science team explore the size, geographic distribution, composition and abundance of airborne particles and investigate how they relate to the patterns and prevalence of health problems stemming from poor air quality.

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