Successful flight for aircraft carrying Leicester’s pioneering NO2 scanner

Posted by ap507 at Feb 08, 2018 10:25 AM |
University of Leicester space scientists equip plane with leading space technology in order to test equipment and monitor air pollution around Leicester and Peterborough

Issued by University of Leicester on 8 February 2018

  • Successful flight launched from Stoughton airfield in Leicester was equipped with pioneering CompAQS scanner to measure nitrogen dioxide levels in environment
  • High resolution air pollution maps generated by CompAQS will be available at a later date
  • Leicester team hopes to fly the spectrometer in space in order to analyse air pollution at a global level 

Pilot’s-eye view of Leicester from the air available here:

The University of Leicester has successfully carried out the flight of an aircraft equipped with pioneering space technology to measure air pollution, in particular nitrogen dioxide (NO2), in the environment.

The team, from the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, flew the instrument for approximately 90 minutes on a hired aircraft from Stoughton airfield in Leicester on Wednesday 7 February 2018.

The major survey was carried out over Peterborough and Cambridgeshire with some data collected over Leicester.

The aircraft was equipped with the CompAQS imaging spectrometer, a cutting-edge instrument developed by the University of Leicester and partners which is able to create detailed images of air pollution. In space it would produce images with seven times the spatial resolution of existing space missions such as the EU European Space Agency Sentinel 5 Precursor mission.

The instrument is part of a major initiative to improve the UK’s technological leadership in space instrumentation for Earth Observation, developing technologies to a higher level and supporting the Government’s Research and Industrial Strategy.

CompAQS monitors visible light and measures how much light is lost at specific wavelengths absorbed by NO2.

Using this information, researchers can reconstruct the distribution of the gas and produce data on how polluted parts of the landscape are, including motorway junctions, airports, car parks and urban environments. This is valuable data for urban planners and legislators to mitigate the impact of pollution on health and life chances.

Jordan White, the CompAQS Instrument Scientist from the University of Leicester who operated the instrument during the aircraft flight, said: “CompAQS has been an exciting and rewarding project to be involved in. From design to build to test to airborne demo; a large group of engineers and scientists all had their part to play in the great progress that has been made in providing a solution to high resolution mapping of urban air pollution.”

Professor Mark Sims from the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, who leads the instrument upgrade programme, said: “This flight is the culmination of 3 years design, build and test by the team. It is great to see CompAQS working and functioning as expected.”

The CompAQS instrument was designed, built and tested at the University of Leicester in collaboration with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd and DL Optics Ltd. It was funded by the UK Space Agency through the Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation Programme (CEOI). The CEOI offers grants, networking and project management to support UK universities and industry in developing world leading technologies for Earth Observation.

Beth Greenaway, Head of Earth Observation and Climate at the UK Space Agency, said: “It’s exciting to see this instrument begin tests on the aircraft. The UK Space Agency has supported this technology, from the early concepts to these airborne trials, over multiple projects since 2007. I look forward to seeing the results and how this could complement air quality monitoring over our towns and cities.”

The team have previously used this type of instrument as part of the CityScan project – involving several spectrometers placed on tall buildings, which are being used to build a 3D map of pollution across a city. Earlier versions of CompAQS have also flown in the past on aircraft, however this instrument is the first designed and built to fly in space and survive the launch and space environment. The University hope that CompAQS can fly on a space mission in the early 2020s.


Notes to editors:

For more information contact Professor Mark Sims on

Share this page: