High Resolution Satellite Imaging of Nitrogen Dioxide from Low Earth Orbit; Finding a New Approach: Applying Multi-Level Perspective and the Disciple of Reversal to Climate Policy Reform

Brookes, Alexander, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Neeley, Kathryn, University of Virginia
Goyne, Chris, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia

The world currently faces a number of far reaching issues, however, climate change may possess the unique potential to affect the living conditions all life on earth. Given this, there is growing need for additional sources of climate data amongst climate scientists. Current ground-based measurement systems are only capable of collecting data on their surrounding area. As a result, the predictive capabilities of climate models based on these limited resources are likewise limited. My technical and STS projects explored the logistical and societal challenges present within in using miniaturized satellites, known as CubeSats, as potential solution to this problem. CubeSats are typically measured in units (U), with a 1U measure of 10 cubic centimeters. Given their small size, CubeSats are typically simpler in construction and thus far cheaper than larger scale satellites with respect to their design, launch, and maintenance costs. Consequently, CubeSats have a potential for being a cheaper, more cost-effective alternative to full scale satellites as means of data collection. However, this potential has only just begun to be realized as space agencies in the past have favored larger projects. My technical project consisted of a team effort to design a CubeSat, with the goal of demonstrating this potential.
Having received a preliminary design from the previous graduating class, my team worked to finalize the design for a 3U CubeSat that would use an onboard spectrograph to measure atmospheric nitrogen dioxide from lower earth orbit. The team was primarily composed of aerospace engineering majors and a couple mechanical engineering majors. As a result, many of us hand to take on roles that we were not necessarily prepared for given our educational backgrounds. For instance, many of us had to learn basic electrical engineering skills given the hardware needs of the spacecraft. As part of the avionics and communications sub-team of the project, I personally had to develop skills not just in electrical engineering, but in computer engineering as well. For peers that come after me on this project and others like it, I would recommend developing rudimentary skills from multiple disciples and having a willingness to explore new skillsets. Classwork tends to focus on one specific topic at a time, however, many real-world projects will require an understanding of multiple disciplines. After months of work, the end result of our labors was a finalized design, and an outline for the budget and launch of the spacecraft. Starting in Fall of 2020, a new team will take on the project and work towards the construction of the craft and its eventual launch.
In conducting the STS research, I found that most of my peers focused on the direct impact of their projects. However, from a societal point of view, data collecting satellites don’t have much direct impact. If implemented, the data collected would be used by climate scientist for their own research and, most likely, only their published findings would reach the public’s awareness. That being said, the point of this project is to produce a better understanding of climate change and inform society’s response to it. Therefore, instead of choosing to focus on the solution’s effect on society, I chose instead to focus on society’s impact on it. Limiting my research to the United States, I decided to explore the history of public policy, its failure to address climate change, and how it could be changed in the future. After conducting some research on the topic, I found a significant number of studies suggesting that the traditional method of influencing public through information and education was largely ineffective. From there, I decided to investigate other ways of influencing the public. I found that factors that were most influential on people’s behavior were environmental in nature, such as social groups and opinions leaders (e.g. worship leaders, news casters, politicians, etc.). This research also showed that an empathetic approach that appealed to an individual’s intuitive beliefs was more likely to work than a purely rational one. Using this information, I attempt to develop a new framework that others could later use to develop new strategies of influencing the public on climate policy. This new framework emphasizes a dynamic approach of swaying select individuals who hold influence, instead of trying to inciting the general public as past methods have done. This framework and the research that lead to it may be beneficial to future peers who are also conducting STS research that involves environmental or public policy.
It’s easy to see that my technical and STS projects aren’t intimately related. However, they are reliant on one another. If the two separate goals they seek to fulfilled aren’t actualized (i.e. better climate models and swaying public opinion on climate policy), then collectively the ultimate goal of producing informed climate policy cannot be achieved. This highlights the interconnectivity of engineering and society as a whole, and the need for constructive dialogue between the two. In particular, it demonstrates the necessity for empathetic communication between the scientific community, policy makers, and the general public.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Climate Change, Satellite, CubeSat, Climate Policy, Public Policy

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering
Technical Advisor: Christopher Goyne
STS Advisor: Kathryn Neeley
Technical Team Members: Isabel Araujo, Genesis Brockett, Alex Brookes, Noah DeMatteo, Max Diamond, Sami Khatouri, William McNicholas, Matt Moore, Adelaide Pollard, William Schaefermeier, Huy Tran, Hannah Umansky

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