The eruption of the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, caused major disruption to air traffic over Europe during April and May 2010. Dangerous levels of volcanic ash can severely damage jet engines and, as a result of the dispersion of the ash, airlines were forced to ground their fleets. The disruption in 2010 cost the aviation industry an estimated €200 M per day. Volcanic ash has a unique spectral signature at 11 and 12 µm and mass loadings can be measured from space using the brightness temperature difference between these two channels. Whilst there are several spaceborne infrared imagers, such as MODIS and ASTER, these instruments can only resolve total mass loading along the line-of-sight. No current sensor, on the ground or in space, provides the capability to detect, track and map the three dimensional structure of an entire ash cloud.
The primary purpose of this activity is to analyse the feasibility of a TIR imaging instrument which could be used in a ‘point and stare’ mode on a multi-unit CubeSat to fill this gap in capability. This mode would use multiple viewing angles to image the three-dimensional structure of the ash cloud. This study will comprise an assessment of the science and mission requirements and then the elaboration of a conceptual design for the spacecraft imager. The implications of the needs of the imager for the mission would then be considered. The team comprises the uniquely qualified partnership of internationally renowned volcano experts and experienced spacecraft systems engineers at the University of Bristol and prominent instrument design, calibration and application experts from the Science and Technology Research Council (RAL).