Space Station Benefitting Natural Disaster Responders
July 17, 2013

Space Station Benefiting Natural Disaster Responders

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

International space agencies released a statement on Wednesday about the benefits the space station can bring to the table during natural disasters.

The International Space Station (ISS) sits 250 miles above the surface of the Earth, providing a broad view of the planet. The space station's partner agencies said that this orbiting outpost could play an important role in helping emergency responders know what areas are most in need during natural disasters.

In 2012, the partner agencies published "International Space Station Benefits for Humanity," which outlined specific humanitarian accomplishments of the orbiting laboratory. This publication highlights the contributions the space station has made in Earth observation and disaster response, education, and human health.

NASA says the ISS can provide an immediate benefit to regions that have experienced natural disasters, such as floods, wildfires, large storm systems, earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. This data supports global response efforts for regions experiencing natural disasters by collecting imagery of disaster-stricken areas on a best-effort basis.

The ISS partner agencies have worked on procedures to efficiently contribute to disaster response with the image data taken by the crewmembers. The agencies said that recent imagery campaigns in response to calls for data include: imagery of areas in Haiti and the Atlantic coast of the US that were impacted by Hurricane Sandy; and multispectral imagery collected by the ISS Agriculture Camera (ISSAC) of flooded regions in Nigeria and Pakistan.

The ISS Earth Observation payload includes the Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO), the Super Sensitive High Definition TV (SS-HDTV) camera, the Multipurpose Consolidated Experiment (MCE) high definition TV camera (KIBO HDTV-EF), and the ISS SERVIR Environmental Research and Visualization System (ISERV). NASA said new sensors would be available soon to expand the Earth observation capabilities on the ISS.

"The ISS Program will continue to contribute regional data collected by ISS sensors and crew members in response to natural disasters," NASA said. "The ISS Partners are committed to continuing to share this unique asset in space and the benefits it brings to life on Earth."

NASA recently reported how the ISERV camera helped officials working in the flooded regions of downtown Calgary in Alberta, Canada. This camera snapped 24 images of the flooded area and sent the photos out to officials to help with response and assessment. The system is based on a modified commercial telescope and driven by custom software.

Nearly 95 percent of the planet's populated area is visible during the station's orbit, so the Earth-facing window on the orbiting laboratory is a perfect spot to take photos with the high-resolution camera to assist rescuers.