The US space agency, NASA, has just launched a prototype instrument that could facilitate the monitoring of volcanic activity and air quality, and it is called NACHOS, according to the acronym in English, of "Hyperspectral Observation System for Atmospheric Chemistry Nanosat”.
NASA's new NACHOS, coincidentally shaped like a horizontal saucer, is part of Northrop Grumman's 17th resupply mission that is currently headed to the International Space Station from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. , in the United States (US).
If successful, NACHOS will be the smallest and highest resolution space instrument dedicated to monitoring atmospheric trace gases such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen dioxide, paving the way for future Earth observing systems that will not only help predict volcanic eruptions, but also monitor the air quality around specific cities, towns, and even power plants.
“A dormant volcano that has just woken up can emit SO2 before there is detectable seismic activity. That gives us an opportunity to identify a potentially erupting volcano before it actually explodes,” said Steve Love, researcher and task leader for the Space and Remote Sensing Group at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in the U.S. Department of Energy. United States.
Read more: NASA astronaut begins tests to fly with Russian crew into space
NACHOS, NASA's 'recipe' to anticipate volcanic eruptions
But monitoring trace gases requires instruments sensitive enough to collect high-resolution data; Traditionally, this meant creating larger satellites equipped with a full suite of powerful sensors.
But now “excellent instruments exist in orbit that can collect data on atmospheric trace gases, but they are expensive to produce and maintain. If we want to expand this scientific capacity, we needed a more cost-effective solution,” he added.
With only 6 kilos of weight and a volume of 300 cubic centimeters, the new NACHOS is well qualified to become the expected solution, reveals NASA.
That's why in addition to an ultra-compact hyperspectral imager capable of collecting high-resolution data, NACHOS also uses built-in processing algorithms, which reduce both the size of its data streams and the amount of time it takes to retransmit those streams to the Land.
These algorithms work particularly well on small computers, giving NACHOS a large amount of computing power without increasing the size or weight of the instrument.
"More power and less weight set NACHOS apart and make it an excellent candidate for future atmospheric trace gas missions," Love said on NASA's website.
That is to say, NACHOS will remain aboard Northrop Grumman's Cygnus spacecraft until May of this year, when the spacecraft will disembark from the International Space Station and place NACHOS into low-Earth orbit before re-entering the Earth's atmosphere.
A second NACHOS instrument will head to low Earth orbit, likely in March, as part of the US Department of Defense's Space Test Program.
The prototype is funded through the InVEST program at NASA's Office of Earth Science Technology.
It may interest you: NASA's Webb Telescope glimpses its first star