NASA’s ISS Test: Taking Earth Pictures from Space
Thursday, September 27th, 2012
by AJ Plunkett
ISERV will soon be installed in WORF, which is part of Destiny…. Nope, not talking about some Data/Worf mashup in a new Star Trek: TNG movie (because, you know, there might be one).
ISERV is a new remote-controlled Earth observation camera soon to be installed and tested on the International Space Station. It’s part of an effort to help developing countries get additional still imagery for their assessment of environmental threats, natural disasters, or humanitarian crises.
The camera is based on a modified commercial telescope, and will be used to record still images from inside the Space Station, which will then, within hours, be sent to scientists on Earth for analysis. According to NASA, “The system is intended to help scientists gain operational experience and expertise and inform the design of a more capable system in the future. Ideally, a future operational system will be able to monitor disasters on Earth.”
Part of the payload aboard the Japanese HTV-3 cargo ship that arrived at the ISS in July, the camera will be installed inside the Earth-facing Window Observational Research Facility (WORF) of the Space Station’s Destiny laboratory.
Earth-based scientists will control the camera and hope to use the system to gain operational experience and expertise that will “inform the design of a more capable system in the future”. Such a system would be able to monitor disasters on Earth as the Space Station passes over a particular region, according to NASA.
Serving from Space
ISERV stands for the International Space Station SERVIR Environmental Research and Visualization System. In turn, SERVIR is the name of the group that approached NASA’s ISS and Earth Science teams looking for help in obtaining images for the developing countries.
SERVIR, which means “to serve” in Spanish, is a joint NASA-U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) initiative that “integrates satellite observations, ground-based data and forecast models to monitor and forecast environmental changes and to improve response to natural disasters”.
With active hubs in Kenya and Nepal, as well as a network affiliate in Panama, SERVIR has its coordination office and student research laboratory at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. That is also where ISERV was designed and built.
Follow the Path
ISERV is the first of a series of pathfinder instruments that are planned for the Space Station, each to feature progressively more advanced sensors. NASA hopes to place future versions — if funded — on the exterior of the Space Station “for an even clearer, wider view of Earth”.
Earlier this year, NASA said it hoped to have ISERV installed and operational by Nov. 1.
NASA states that the Earth-facing window in the Destiny Laboratory has “the highest quality optics ever flown on a human occupied spacecraft”.
AJ Plunkett is a freelance writer in Virginia with experience in covering defense and aerospace industries as well as the military. AJ blogs via Contently.com.