Exactly five years ago today, the Dutch satellite instrument Tropomi was launched on board the ESA satellite Sentinel-5P. The performance of the measuring instrument exceeded all expectations and regularly made headlines in the world press. Dutch high-tech is crucial for European space travel, according to the Director-General of the European Space Agency (ESA), Josef Aschbacher: “With Tropomi, the Netherlands delivered a masterpiece. You can really call it a gift to the world.”
On October 13th, 2017, Friday the 13th, hundreds of people watched from ESA’s technology center ESTEC in Noordwijk on a big screen as a rocket shot into space from Siberia. An hour later, the relieved message arrived: launch successful, the orbit is correct, the instruments are working, operations can begin. The wealth of results that followed in the five years that followed could not have been predicted by anyone present.
A picture says more than a thousand words. That also applies to the images that Tropomi sent back to Earth in the past five years. The innovative instrument is capable of monitoring the nitrogen emissions of individual ships, as the KNMI learned. But it also made painfully visible the impact of human activity on air quality during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Dutch space research institute SRON showed how Tropomi detects large methane leaks from, for example, the oil and gas industry and waste belts. Both the KNMI and SRON regularly made international headlines with new discoveries from Tropomi. This led to an invitation from the White House in America for Yasjka Meijer, Dutch mission scientist at ESA, to advise the Biden administration based on Tropomi data.
ESA Director-General Josef Aschbacher highlighted the importance of the Dutch measuring instrument during the ESTEC open day: “Tropomi is currently the best instrument for observing greenhouse gases from space. This confirms the Netherlands’ reputation as a builder of the best atmospheric earth observation instruments. Now it is important that the Netherlands continues to invest in the future of these types of measuring instruments. This is not only an investment in the space industry, it is truly an investment in humanity.”
Tropomi is a collaboration between Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands, KNMI, SRON and TNO, commissioned by NSO and ESA. Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands is the main contractor for the design and construction of the instrument. The scientific leadership is in the hands of KNMI and SRON. TNO is responsible for the optical design and integration. Tropomi is financed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management.
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