Ozone Tracking From The Space Station
March 31, 2013

SAGE III Ozone Sensor To Be Installed On Space Station Next Year

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

NASA is planning to launch a new, highly-sophisticated space-based ozone sensor to help monitor the layer of atmosphere that helps protect the planet from some of the sun´s harshest UV rays, the US space agency announced on Friday.

Dubbed the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III (SAGE III), the sensor is currently scheduled to be installed on the International Space Station (ISS) sometime in 2014. According to NASA, SAGE III will be using the sun and moon as light sources to help monitor the recovery of the ozone layer, which blocks solar UV rays that would otherwise burn skin and cause cancer.

When either the sun or the moon rises or sets behind the planet´s edge, the sensor will be able to analyze the light that passes through Earth´s atmosphere. Ozone and similar molecules will absorb certain wavelengths that reveal their density, location and temperature.

“SAGE III is, essentially, analyzing the colors of the sunset to track ozone. It sounds romantic, but this is hard science,” Joe Zawodny, Project Scientist for the instrument at the Langley Research Center, said in a statement. He added that the space station is “in the perfect orbit for SAGE III. It will be able to monitor ozone all around the Earth during all seasons of the year.”

The original SAGE sensors were transported into space on Earth observing satellites near the end of the 1970s and the early 1980s, NASA explained. Its successor helped confirm the ozone layer´s decline and also measured the impact that the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo on the island of Luzon had on the stratosphere.

Most recently, a SAGE III sensor placed into orbit onboard the Russian Meteor-3M satellite extended the ozone record into the 2000s and produces more precise readings than ever before.

According to Zawodny, SAGE has accuracy levels of “better than 1% in the mid-to-lower stratosphere” and “a very high vertical resolution of 1km or better” — and that will only improve once SAGE III reaches the ISS.

From the space station, the sensors will be able to measure ozone deeper into the atmosphere than previously possible. It will be able to detect the all-important compound in the troposphere all over the world.

“I suspect there will be a few surprises in those measurements,” he added. “The recovery of ozone there is tied to changes in greenhouse gases like CO2. Given what we know about recent increases in greenhouse emissions, it is possible that ozone in the tropics will never return to 1980s levels.”