New ISS cameras set to provide high quality Earth views in near real time
On Jan. 27, two Russian Cosmonauts undertook a six hour spacewalk in order to install two new British-manufactured Earth imaging cameras to the Russian segment of the ISS. The initiative, announced in 2011, will allow anyone with an internet connection access to the near-live feed, which will provide higher quality results than the currently-installed standard definition cameras.
The recent spacewalk comes after an unsuccessful installation attempt on Dec, 27, 2013, when an error occurred after the cameras were put in place. The issue meant that no telemetry was received by the Russian Mission Control Center located outside of Moscow, leading to a removal of the cameras by the cosmonauts, followed by an investigation into the cause of the malfunction.
During last Monday's spacewalk, Expedition 38 Commander Oleg Kotov and fellow cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy successfully re-installed the two cameras. Unfortunately, there are reportedly still telemetry issues with the medium resolution camera.
UrtheCast (pronounced “Earth-cast”), is the Canadian company that will operate and govern the use of the cameras. It released a statement on Jan, 28, stating that both cameras where in fact successfully installed and that “contrary to the online broadcast of the installation, the telemetry was received by Mission Control Central near Moscow”. The release went on to affirm that the telemetry received by Moscow was within expected results and that the company could now begin to look ahead to the unveiling of its “Ultra HD color video of Earth” service.
The two cameras, created in the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, UK, will traverse between latitudes of 51 degrees to -51 degrees, essentially between England and Chile and all that lies between. The five-meter (16.4-ft) resolution camera will be tasked with capturing strips of 40-km (25-mile) wide imagery throughout the year, while the one-meter (3.3-ft) resolution video camera will grab roughly 150 videos averaging 60 seconds in length in full 4K resolution.
The 4K camera will provide a resolution of one meter per pixel, while the medium resolution camera produces footage of five meters per pixel. The high resolution camera will be fully controllable with the ability to aim at fixed points on the Earth's surface, allowing it to capture footage of events, such as war zones and weather systems.
The Vancouver-based company intends to stream the footage to its interactive web platform, promising near live footage in stunning quality as it orbits the earth 16 times in a 24 hour period.
We reached out to UrtheCast for clarification on what the basic package would grant the non-commercial user access to. The free account requires nothing more than a login and an active internet connection. This basic profile will provide access to the UrtheCast near live feed as well as archived footage, providing it has not been licensed by a data partner. The company also intends to build a community around the service, with users uploading their own favorite UrtheCast footage and locations.
In addition to the free services, paying clients will also have the ability to task cameras to specific areas, retaining exclusive rights to the data recorded. This will likely be a very popular service for news networks looking to gain near-live high resolution images of notable global events.
The company also believes that the new cameras could be put to great effect in a more altruistic sphere by aiding in the monitoring of the environment, using them as a potential tool for the expedition of humanitarian relief efforts.
UrtheCast is due to begin streaming footage from the Northern Hemisphere spring this year. However, anyone who can't wait that long for a live view of the Earth from space should look to NASA's standard definition cameras, providing a 24-hour live stream from the exterior of the ISS.
The following video shows how the cameras will image the Earth.