New ISS eyes see Rio San Pablo

Mar 07, 2013

(Phys.org) —In January 2013, a new Earth-observing instrument was installed on the International Space Station (ISS). ISERV Pathfinder consists of a commercial camera, a telescope, and a pointing system, all positioned to look through the Earth-facing window of ISS's Destiny module. ISERV Pathfinder is intended as an engineering exercise, with the long-term goal of developing a system for providing imagery to developing nations as they monitor natural disasters and environmental concerns.

The image above is the "first light" from the new ISERV camera system, taken at 1:44 p.m. local time on February 16, 2013. It shows the Rio San Pablo as it empties into the Golfo de Montijo in Veraguas, Panama. It is an ecological transition zone, changing from agriculture and pastures to mangrove forests, swamps, and estuary systems. The area has been designated a protected area by the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) of Panama and is listed as a "wetland of international importance" under the Ramsar Convention. (Note that the image is rotated so that north is to the upper right.)

"ISERV's full potential is yet to be seen, but we hope it will really make a difference in people's lives," said principal investigator Burgess Howell of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. "For example, if an earthen dam gives way in Bhutan, we want to be able to show officials where the bridge is out or where a road is washed out or a power substation is inundated. This kind of information is critical to focus and speed rescue efforts."

The instrument will be controlled from NASA Marshall in Huntsville, Alabama, in collaboration with researchers at hubs in Central America, East Africa, and the Hindu Kush–Himalaya region. They will rely on positioning software to know where the space station is at each moment and to calculate the next chance to view a particular area on the ground. If there's a good viewing opportunity, the SERVIR team will instruct the camera to take high-resolution photographs at 3 to 7 frames per second, totaling as many as 100 images per pass. With a resolution down to 3.2 meters (10 feet), it will be possible to spot fairly small details and objects.

The current mission will test the limitations of Pathfinder and identify measures for improvements in a more permanent system. For instance, the engineering team is working to determine how the geometry of the ISS window affects the imagery; how much sunlight is needed to capture clear images; and how the atmosphere affects that clarity. This characterization phase will last several weeks to a few months. Eventually, ISERV should be made available to the natural hazards community and to basic research scientists.

ISERV is short for ISS SERVIR Environmental Research and Visualization system. Together with the U.S. Agency for International Development, NASA runs the SERVIR program to provide satellite data, maps, and other tools to environmental decisionmakers in developing countries. (Servir is a Spanish word meaning "to serve.")

Explore further: Space sex geckos at risk as Russia loses control of satellite

More information: Learn more about the SERVIR program by clicking here.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A "DisasterCam" for the ISS

Jun 28, 2012

Of all the hundreds of spacecraft and satellites in Earth orbit, few can match the International Space Station for its view of the big blue marble below. Scientists would like to put that spectacular view ...

SERVIR launches Himalayan node in Nepal

Nov 11, 2010

SERVIR-Himalaya made its successful debut in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Oct. 5, taking the stage as the third global node in the SERVIR Regional Visualization and Monitoring System. SERVIR-Himalaya expands the collaboration ...

Satellites Guide Relief to Earthquake Victims

Jun 26, 2009

On May 28 at 2:24 a.m. local time, a deadly earthquake rocked Honduras, killing seven people and injuring several others, demolishing homes, damaging scores of other buildings, and sending terrified residents ...

Recommended for you

Video: A dizzying view of the Earth from space

10 hours ago

We've got vertigo watching this video, but in a good way! This is a sped-up view of Earth from the International Space Station from the Cupola, a wraparound window that is usually used for cargo ship berthings ...

NEOWISE spots a comet that looked like an asteroid

10 hours ago

Comet C/2013 UQ4 (Catalina) has been observed by NASA's Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft just one day after passing through its closest approach to the sun. The comet ...

What the UK Space Agency can teach Australia

10 hours ago

Australia has had an active civil space program since 1947 but has much to learn if it is to capture a bigger share of growing billion dollar global space industry. ...

Discover the "X-factor" of NASA's Webb telescope

11 hours ago

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray observatory have something in common: a huge test chamber used to simulate the hazards of space and the distant glow of starlight. Viewers can learn about ...

User comments : 0