August 28, 2012

Tiny ESA X-Cam Captures Image Of Big Isaac

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Every year around this time, hurricanes and tropical storms churn out from the Atlantic ocean, striking the Caribbean Islands and the East and Gulf Coasts of the U.S. As such, every year, this season provides meteorologists the opportunity to monitor and study these deadly and destructive storms, working to better understand these storms and improve their tracking technologies.

Using a combination of on-the-ground tools and satellites, these meteorologists gather data about the storms conditions, as well as study photographs of the storms´ cloud walls and eyes. One such satellite, the Proba-2 micro satellite, is carrying an experimental piece of equipment to study the latest hurricane to ravage the Gulf Coast. The European Space Agency has equipped the Proba-2 with a tiny camera, no larger than an espresso cup, to capture images of Hurricane Isaac as it bears down towards Louisiana. The resulting image is a crisp, clear picture of the large storm turning about in the Gulf.

The small camera, called the X-Cam, or Exploration Camera, took the image on Tuesday, August 27th when Isaac was still classified as a tropical storm, with maximum sustained winds of over 60 miles per hour and storm force winds reaching out over 220 miles from the storm´s center. Isaac was upgraded to hurricane status around noon on Tuesday afternoon after spending some time over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

ESA´s Proba-2 micro satellite is said to be no larger than one cubic meter, and is primarily used to study sun and space weather. The tiny, attached exhibition camera is capable of snapping pictures of the visible and even near-infrared with a wide, 100 degree field of view. This monochromatic camera is located on the underbelly of the Proba-2 satellite and, according to the ESA, is only one of 17 new technologies to be demonstrated by this micro satellite.

Swiss company Micro-Cameras was given the task of creating the space-bound Exhibition Camera, as well as many other cameras. According to the ESA, Micro-Cameras has been asked to create an entire series of these small cameras to be used in various and upcoming missions to space, including further missions aboard the Proba-2 and even the SMART-1.

A camera similar to the Exhibition Camera is currently onboard the comet-chasing Rosetta spacecraft, which aims to conduct some of the most detailed study of comets ever attempted.

The Rosetta spacecraft is equipped with a large orbiter, which will orbit the sun from a large distance for a decade or so. Also onboard the Rosetta spacecraft is a small lander, which will land on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014, taking measurements and recording data all while riding along the comet as it heads its way towards the sun. The Exhibition Camera will offer the ESA their first look at the surface of a comet from onboard the Rosetta lander.

The Exhibition Camera is an intelligent one, equipped with technology which allows it to automatically adjust for the correct exposure and shutter settings no matter how much light is available. The ESA say these small cameras could be useful in the future to keep an eye on the satellites themselves, watching for damages or other environmental issues.