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NASA and Italian Space Agency join hands for satellite mission to monitor air pollution

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NASA announced on Wednesday that it is partnering with the Italian Space Agency ASI (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana) to build and launch MAIA, or the Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols missions. The joint mission between the two national space agencies will investigate the health impacts of air pollution in the world’s most populated cities.

According to NASA, MAIA is the first mission by the agency whose primary goal is to benefit societal health. Epidemiologists and public health researchers will be directly working on the development of a satellite mission.

The MAIA observatory, which is set to launch before the end of 2024 will consist of the PLATiNO-2 satellite, which will be provided by ASI, and a science instrument that will be built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The MAIA mission will collect and analyse data from the observatory, sensors on the ground and atmospheric models.

“Breathing airborne pollution particles has been associated with many health problems, but the toxicity of different particle mixtures has been less well understood. Working together with colleagues in Italy and around the world, we expect that MAIA will help us understand how airborne particle pollution puts our health at risk and potentially provide insights that will inform the decisions of public health officials and other policymakers,” said David Diner, NASA’s principal investigator for MAIA, in a press statement.

The science instrument built by JPL will host a “pointable spectropolarimetric camera,” which captures images from multiple angles in the ultraviolet, visible, near-infrared and shortwave infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Using this data, the MAIA science team will explore the size, geographic distribution, composition and abundance of airborne particles. They will also investigate how these factors relate with the patterns and prevalence of health problems stemming from poor air quality.

“MAIA marks an important moment in the long history of cooperation between NASA and ASI, and it symbolizes the best our two agencies can marshal in terms of expertise, knowledge, and Earth-observation technology. The science produced by this joint mission will provide benefits to humanity for years to come,” added Francesco Longo, head of the Earth Observation and Operation Division at ASI, in a press statement.

During the course of the three-year mission, MAIA will focus on 11 primary target areas that include major urban centres across the world: Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston, Rome, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Barcelona, Spain, Beijing, Johannesburg, New Delhi, Taipei, Taiwan; and Tel Aviv.

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