Space camera to take pictures of planet Earth from ISS to detect disasters

19 Jul 2012

Colour image of fires in Nicaragua and Honduras from the NASA Aqua satellite, Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor, 27 April 2008. The red dots are hot areas detected by the satellite. Smoke from the fires is circled. Credit: NASA

A new Earth-observing camera system is heading to the International Space Station this week. Once the camera is installed in the station’s Destiny lab it will be directed by researchers on the ground to acquire imagery of specific areas of the globe for disaster analysis and environmental studies.

The camera itself is known as ISERV, which stands for International Space Station SERVIR Environmental Research and Visualization System.

It will be launching tomorrow aboard the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s HTV-3 vehicle, which is on track to launch at 10.06 pm (EDT) from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

The new imaging instrument was designed and built at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

SERVIR is a programme to provide satellite data and tools to environmental decision makers in developing countries. It is a partnership between NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide Earth observations and predictive models based on data from orbiting satellites.
As for the ISERV camera, NASA said that a future operational system will be able to monitor disasters on Earth.

“ISERV came about because officials in developing countries are sometimes unable to acquire the images they need to address environmental threats and provide post-disaster assessments,” said Nancy Searby, capacity building programme manager for the SERVIR program at NASA headquarters in Washington.

The ISERV system, according to the space agency, is based on a modified commercial telescope and will be driven by custom software. NASA said the camera will use the Earth-facing Destiny science window to obtain images of Earth’s surface before transmitting the data to scientists on the ground.

Dan Irwin, SERVIR program director at Marshall, said that the aim is for the camera to provide new data and information from space related to natural disasters, environmental crises and the increased effects of climate variability on human populations.

The team at the Payload Operations Center at Marshall is creating computer-based materials for training the space station crew to assemble and install ISERV. Normal operations are set to begin in November.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic