Tuesday, September 9, 2014

High Definition Earth Viewing equipment installed on ISS Columbus lab

A view of the High Definition Earth Viewing equipment installed on the exterior of the International Space Station's Columbus laboratory. 

The cameras are enclosed in a temperature specific housing and are exposed to the harsh radiation of space. 

Credit: NASA

A series of new Earth science instruments launching to the International Space Station over the next year is prompting a new era of Earth observation from the orbiting outpost.

These new tools that monitor ocean winds and measure clouds and pollution in the atmosphere, among other climate science phenomena, will help NASA deliver important information to climate researchers.

While these new Earth science instruments collect valuable information on our changing planet, one current Earth observation study continuously streams live views of Earth directly to your desktop or mobile internet device.

The High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) investigation allows anyone with an internet connection to view our world from above. Tune in to the HDEV live stream here.

The HDEV project employs four commercially available cameras to stream the first continuous, high definition video from the space station.

During the two-year study period, researchers hope to determine the best types of cameras to use on future missions by subjecting them to the harsh space environment.

The cameras are enclosed in a temperature-specific case and mounted outside the Columbus laboratory to monitor how quickly they degrade during exposure to radiation in microgravity.

"We know over time that the cameras will begin to degrade," said David Hornyak, engineer and HDEV project manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"We will operate the cameras to determine how long it takes and to learn what that degradation characteristic looks like to provide information on the planning and design of future imagery systems."

"It is expected that the cameras will not just turn off, but they will have some type of image degradation and at some point, that degradation will be bad enough that the image is no longer useful."

With the use of commercially available cameras, the research team also hopes to validate cameras that may be more cost-effective for future missions.

If a camera is readily available on Earth and proves to hold up well in space, purchasing this type of camera would likely be cheaper than designing a new product.

A view of Earth from one of the High Definition Earth Viewing cameras aboard the International Space Station. 

Credit: NASA

By using four different types of cameras, each has a different type of technology to analyse for what works best in space.

Once a week, the project team uses an automated software program to compare pixels on night imagery taken by the cameras to assess the deterioration of each camera.

The pixels are easier to see and compare in dark images than in those with objects and multiple colors included.

"The project team is building up a database of knowledge for selecting cameras in the future," explained Hornyak.

"With this information, we will have an understanding of how much time we have on orbit before a camera has to be replaced."

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