Joint American-Italian MAIA Mission Will Be First to Use Satellites to Focus on Public Health and Pollution

A new joint mission between NASA and Italy’s space agency will seek to assess the health effects of airborne pollution in some of the world’s largest cities.

The Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) mission, a cooperation between NASA and its partners at the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), marks a mission first by the space agencies with its focus on public health with a satellite effort.

MAIA is scheduled to launch sometime in late 2024, including ASI’s PLATiNO-2 satellite and specialty science equipment provided by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), aimed at the collection and study of data from a range of sensors and observatories, as well as data from atmospheric models that the mission will analyze.

With aid from public health experts and other professionals, the data the mission collects will look at the health effects of contaminants in our air in the form of particles known as aerosols, which in the past have been linked to various kinds of respiratory illnesses, and even risks associated strokes, heart attacks, and impacts on reproductive health.

Results from the MAIA mission will be analyzed alongside existing data on birth and mortality, as well as hospitalizations, particularly in areas of the world where its largest populations dwell.

David Diner, NASA’s principal investigator for MAIA, said in a statement released by JPL that the potency of airborne pollution often comes down to the toxicity of different particle mixtures, some of which aren’t well understood by public health experts.

“Working together with colleagues in Italy and around the world, we expect that MAIA will help us understand how airborne particle pollution puts our health at risk,” Diner said, “and potentially provide insights that will inform the decisions of public health officials and other policymakers.”

One of the tools MAIA will rely on is a spectropolarimetric camera capable of capturing images in portions of the electromagnetic spectrum that include visible, near-infrared, shortwave infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths. The camera is also pointable, allowing it to capture images from multiple angles and produce data that will allow the mission to collect information on the composition and abundance of aerosols and other pollutants, as well as their geographic distribution.

Francesco Longo, the ASI’s head of its Earth Observation and Operation Divisionk, says the mission will represent a significant point in history both for the methods undertaken in better understanding how pollution affects world populations and also in the cooperation between the American and Italian space agencies.

“MAIA marks an important moment in the long history of cooperation between NASA and ASI, and it symbolizes the best our two agencies can marshal in terms of expertise, knowledge, and Earth-observation technology,” Longo said.

“The science produced by this joint mission will provide benefits to humanity for years to come,” he added.

You can read more about NASA and ASI’s MAIA mission here.

Micah Hanks is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of The Debrief. He can be reached by email at Follow his work at and on Twitter: @MicahHanks