New camera to image Earth disasters from the International Space Station

New camera to image Earth disasters from the International Space Station

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A new camera mounted aboard the International Space Station will be used to help keep track of disaster zones on Earth, according to a report from NASA Science News. The new camera, according to Burgess Howell, a science leader with SERVIR, the USAID program running the camera, has enough optical resolution to spot relatively small objects from space. “The camera’s nominal resolution is 2.8 meters. That’s about the size of a cow, although we may be able to sense the presence of smaller targets, down to the size of a person.”

Called Pathfinder, the camera is a prototype built by NASA and the U. S. Agency for International Development. Taking photos at seven frames per second, in six to 8 second bursts, the camera could take 40 to 60 images of a specific area in each overhead pass. The International Space Station orbits the earth approximately once every 90 minutes.

Howell explains that the instrument will be useful for disaster relief efforts on the ground, “Let’s assume an earthen dam gives way in Bhutan. With an instrument like Pathfinder, we could show disaster officials where the bridge is out, for example, or the hospital is gone, the road washed out or the power substation inundated.”

While images from the camera can be transmitted to Earth and forwarded to appropriate agencies within a matter of hours, the team notes that the ability to take images of a specific area of the Earth’s surface depends on the orbit of the space station, and waiting for the station to fly over a particular area might, in some cases, take a matter of days.

The camera is intended to be mounted aboard the station’s Destiny module, where it will observe the ground through a glass window providing outside views to station occupants. The team notes that in addition to monitoring disaster areas, the camera will also be available to scientists for more general studies of the Earth’s surface.

According to a NASA release, the program is managed from Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Dan Irwin, manager of the SERVIR program at Marshall, says, “Images captured from ISERV on the International Space Station will provide valuable information back here on Earth. It will provide new data and information from space related to disasters, humanitarian crises and the increased effects of climate variability on human populations.”

The camera is set to be launched on July 21 from southern Japan by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s HTV-3 spacecraft. Operation is expected to begin in November.

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