A SOUTHAMPTON firm is playing a key role in an international space collaboration between the UK and France to develop new sensors for weather forecasting and air pollution monitoring.

At an event at its Millbrook site, engineering firm Leonardo handed over the first sensor payload for the Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer New Generation (IASI-NG) programme, which is a partnership between Leonardo, Airbus Defence & Space, France’s Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales and the UK Space Agency.

IASI-NG is an infrared sounder which can measure and analyse the temperature and water vapour profiles of the Earth’s atmosphere.

In addition to this, IASI-NG has a huge potential to measure greenhouse gases, clouds, aerosols, ozone and trace gases, analysing the content of the Earth’s atmosphere, in particular to detect pollutants and then follow them around the globe.

On a regional scale, IASI-NG will be able to improve ‘now casting’ and very short-range forecasts, through the provision of monitoring of atmospheric instability and cloud structure. This will be particularly useful for high latitudes where geostationary satellites have only sparse coverage.

Leonardo say the system is highly exportable and adaptable to a wide range of scenarios.

IASI-NG is the successor of the IASI (InfraRed Atmospheric Sounder Interferometer) instrument on board MetOp satellites. Its first flight is scheduled for 2022.

In recent years, space cooperation between the UK and France has gone from strength to strength, notably in the fields of Earth observation and climate action.

The UK space industry generates more than a third of its income from international trade, with 40% of UK space exports by value going to France.

Leonardo is also developing in Italy the 3MI (Multi-viewing, Multi-channel, Multi-polarisation Imager) instrument – a short-wave infrared radiometer, which will provide an in-depth, remote study of the physical-chemical properties of the atmosphere and clouds.