ISS Utilization: Sample imagery
ISS Utilization: Sample imagery taken by astronauts on and from the ISS + Events
This file is a loose collection of some imagery samples taken by astronauts off and from the ISS (International Space Station). Astronauts who experience Earth from orbit often report feelings of awe and wonder, of being transformed by what they describe as the magic such a perspective brings. This phenomenon is called the ”overview effect.” The short descriptions in the following entries are presented in reverse order .
Note: As of February 29, 2020, the previously large ISS-Imagery2 and ISS-Imagery files have been split into five files, to make the file handling manageable for all parties concerned, in particular for the user community.
• This article covers the ISS-Imagery plus some status in the period 2020
Mission status and some sample imagery of 2020
• September 27, 2020: An astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS) shot this photograph of coastal western Africa where the Gambia, Casamance, and Saloum Rivers flow into the Atlantic Ocean through The Gambia and Senegal. The Republic of The Gambia is the smallest country in mainland Africa, extending about 320 kilometers (200 miles) inland from the Atlantic and hugging its namesake river. It is bordered by Senegal on all sides, except the coast. (Note: the white border is approximate.) 1)
- The Gambia River flows approximately 1,100 km (700 miles) from the Republic of Guinea through The Gambia. The dark green areas along the banks of the rivers and in the estuaries are mostly mangroves. These coastal forests thrive in brackish waters; they provide storm and erosion protection for coastal communities, as well as timber resources. This particular ecoregion of mangroves stretches across much of the West African coast from Senegal to Sierra Leone.
- The Gambia River is the major trade and transportation route for the country. It also supports commercial fisheries and the cultivation of rice, millet, and other crops.
- Southern Senegal and The Gambia are part of the Sudanian climate zone, which is known for dense woodlands, savannas, and wetlands. These ecosystems are visible to the south of the Gambia River (image left). The region north of the river (right) appears much brighter due to the exposure of bare soil and the dearth of visible vegetation.
- This coastal region is densely populated. The capital and port city of Banjul sits on an island where the Gambia River reaches the Atlantic. With an increasing population, the demand for timber for construction has put stress on the mangrove forests.
Figure 1: The astronaut photograph ISS062-E-137053 was acquired on April 6, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 58 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Laura Phoebus)
• September 22, 2020: Using the ISS Progress 75 thrusters and with NASA and Russian flight controllers working in tandem, the International Space Station conducted a 150-second reboost Tuesday (22 Sept.) afternoon at 5:19 p.m. EDT to avoid a possible conjunction with an unknown piece of space debris. Because of the late notification of the possible conjunction, the three Expedition 63 crew members were directed to move to the Russian segment of the station to be closer to their Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft as part of the safe haven procedure out of an abundance of caution. At no time was the crew in any danger. 2)
- The maneuver raised the station’s orbit out of the predicted path of the debris, which was estimated to come within 1.39 kilometers of the station with a time of closest approach of 6:21 p.m. EDT.
- Once the avoidance maneuver was completed, the crew reopened hatches between the U.S. and Russian segments and resumed their regular activities.
- NASA did not identify the debris in statements about the close approach. Later, space analyst Jonathan McDowell said it was debris from an upper stage of a Japanese H-2A rocket that launched the Ibuki-2, or GOSAT-2, Earth science satellite in October 2018. That upper stage, left in an orbit more than 100 km above the ISS, broke up in February 2019. More than 70 objects from that stage are currently being tracked. 3)
- Many in the space safety community have warned that upper stages can be a leading contributor to the growth of space debris, given their sizes and because many are deposited in similar orbits, increasing the risk of collisions with one another. Upper stages can break apart on their own because of residual propellant that bursts tanks or batteries that explode.
- NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, in a tweet after the debris avoidance maneuver, expressed some frustration. “The @Space_Station has maneuvered 3 times in 2020 to avoid debris. In the last 2 weeks, there have been 3 high concern potential conjunctions. Debris is getting worse!” he wrote.
- According to an August newsletter by NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office, the ISS previously maneuvered to avoid debris on April 19 and July 3. The first maneuver was to avoid debris from Fengyun-1C, a Chinese weather satellite destroyed in a 2007 anti-satellite weapons test. The second maneuver was caused by debris from a Soviet-era upper stage motor, launched in 1987 and which broke apart in 2003. The report noted that the motor suffered a design flaw that has resulted in more than 50 such breakups to date.
Figure 2: Controllers maneuvered the International Space Station Sept. 22 to avoid a close approach by debris from the upper stage of a Japanese rocket (image credit: NASA)
• September 20, 2020: Clouds trace out the islands of the Caribbean Sea in this photo taken by an astronaut from inside the Cupola on the International Space Station. Beyond the solar arrays and the docked Progress resupply vehicle, the multi-toned waters of the Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean frame the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, and southern Florida. 4)
- The bright turquoise water around the Bahamas contrasts sharply with the darker blues of the open ocean. From above, the contrast allows us to see the Tongue of the Ocean, a submarine canyon descending nearly 4300 meters (14,000 feet) below the surrounding shallow bank. The variable water colors can be explained by the underwater topography and water depth (bathymetry) and how it leads to varying light absorption and reflection. In the clear and shallow waters of the Caribbean, more sunlight reflects off the sand and reef surfaces, causing the water to appear lighter in color. The shallow water that surrounds the Bahamas and outlines the Tongue of the Ocean comprise the Great and Little Bahama Banks.
- This photo was captured on a peaceful, if somewhat cloudy, spring day. But in the summertime, this region is known colloquially as “hurricane alley.” Tropical cyclones that form off the coast of Africa and mature in warm Atlantic waters frequently first encounter land at these islands. Unfortunately for residents, the number of named storms in the Atlantic has been increasing in recent years.
Figure 3: The astronaut photograph ISS062-E-117852 was acquired on March 30, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 16 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Alex Stoken)
• September 13, 2020: An astronaut onboard the International Space Station took this photograph of a portion of the northern Patagonian Andes in Chile. This nearly cloud-free view is rich with glacial fjords, complex shorelines, and active volcanoes. Melimoyu is the large, ice-capped stratovolcano northeast of the Moraleda Channel. Low-level clouds are concentrated in the Puyuhuapi Channel between the tall peaks. 5)
- During the last glacial maximum, roughly 25,000 years ago, the land and water in this photo were entirely covered by ice. As they retreated, the massive glaciers carved up the land and created interconnected fjords and channels. Today, small ice caps still sit atop active volcanoes such as Melimoyu and Mentolat, both of which are a part of Chile’s national park system.
- The Moraleda Channel is a gateway between many smaller fjords and the open ocean. Rivers carry an influx of freshwater and sediment, which can promote phytoplankton growth, especially during spring and autumn. The streaks visible within the Moraleda Channel are likely a blend of sediment and plankton, based on the high concentration of chlorophyll detected that day by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometers (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites, as well as previous carbon cycle studies. The waters here support an abundant diversity of marine, estuary, and freshwater species, including blue whales.
Figure 4: The astronaut photograph ISS062-E-113155 was acquired on March 25, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 116 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Andrea Meado)
• September 9, 2020: ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano provides words of wisdom to young people on how investing their time wisely today can help build a better tomorrow. 6)
Figure 5: In this video, Luca recalls his own childhood and says, the most valuable resource we have as young people is time. He encourages the next generation to continue having fun, but to do so while investing in their own education as they plant the seed for a successful future (video credit: ESA)
- Success, Luca says, is not measured by being an astronaut or by being rich, but by committing to projects that give you satisfaction and contribute to a better world. If you choose something you love, and you love what you do, you will never work one day in your life.
- As an ESA astronaut of Italian nationality, Luca has served two six-month space missions on the International Space Station. During his last mission, known as Beyond, in 2019/2020 he became the third European and first ever Italian in command of the Space Station.
- Luca continues to work as an astronaut in Europe, inspiring the next generation of explorers, and supporting European efforts to enhance life on Earth and the future of space travel through human and robotic exploration.
• September 6, 2020: An astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) took this photograph highlighting the water surface in the southeast corner of the Caspian Sea. The tight angle of the coastline, close to the point where Iran and Turkmenistan meet, is a readily recognizable landmark for ISS crews. The region has a generally arid climate, but thick forests blanket the rain-catching slopes of the Elbrus Mountains that fringe the sea. 7)
- The image shows patterns of swirls on the sea surface as revealed by reflected sunlight, or sunglint. This circulation has been studied through both remote sensing and in situ techniques—in this case floating drifters that take direct measurements in the water column as their movements are tracked by GPS.
- Thanks to such data, scientists now know that the water in this corner of the Caspian Sea circulates slowly in a counterclockwise direction, making a broad current pattern termed a gyre. This flow appears to astronauts as a complicated pattern of smaller eddies or swirls; they are larger where the water is deeper (top center) and much smaller near the shoreline, where the water is shallower.
Figure 6: This astronaut photograph ISS061-E-6914 was acquired on October 18, 2019, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 240 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 61 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, Caption by Justin Wilkinson)
• August 30, 2020: Charleston, the capital city of West Virginia, is nestled in the Allegheny Mountains, one of the smaller ranges running through the Appalachians. The brown-hued, textured areas—not yet painted green by springtime—highlight the ruggedness of the surrounding terrain and allow local cities, roads, and mines to stand out in this photograph taken by an astronaut from the ISS (International Space Station). 8)
- Established in the 1700s, Charleston sits in a river valley at the confluence of the Kanawha and Elk rivers. The Kanawha River, named after the Kanawha Native American tribe, is a tributary of the Ohio River and is only about 160 kilometers (100 miles) long. Due to the region’s undulating topography, much of the Allegheny Mountain Range was historically difficult to travel across as early European settlers headed west. Throughout Charleston’s development and expansion, its riverside location made it a welcome resting spot for settlers along their route west, and many chose to stay in the region permanently.
- Salt works, logging, and mining would become the city’s leading economic industries. Brine has been pumped from wells in this area for its salt content for hundreds of years. Logging became prevalent due to the abundance and variety of trees in the mountains.
- Underground coal mines, which date back to the early 1800s, are scattered throughout West Virginia. In the 1970s, coal operations started using a process known as mountaintop mining: the removal of rock and soil from mountaintops to reach coal seams. Since the process starts with the complete deforestation of an area, such surface mines can bring large-scale changes to the landscape and environment.
Figure 7: The astronaut photograph ISS062-E-124061 was acquired on April 3, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 290 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Sara Schmidt)
• August 23, 2020: This photograph, taken by an International Space Station astronaut while in orbit over the Caribbean Sea, captures one of Earth’s most alluring ocean locations. The Great Blue Hole lies near the center of Lighthouse Reef atoll, about 80 km (50 miles) from the coast of mainland Belize. The exceptional clarity of the water, characteristic of atolls in the Caribbean, allows the deeper (darker) hole to stand out against the shallower (lighter) waters of the reef. 9)
- The mysterious Great Blue Hole most likely formed during the last Ice Age, when global sea level was much lower. This marine sinkhole contains many geologic features, including limestone stalactites and stalagmites. It stretches 300 meters (about 1,000 feet) across and reaches depths of more than 120 meters (400 feet). The depths and compelling rock formations within the Great Blue Hole are intriguing to seasoned divers. While the reefs around it are teeming with life, the poor circulation of oxygen and lack of light at the bottom of the hole creates an inhospitable environment for most life forms.
- Lighthouse Reef and the Great Blue Hole are just small pieces of the Belize Barrier Reef system, one of the world’s most pristine marine ecosystems. Comprised of fringing, barrier, and atoll reefs, the area supports a rich diversity of species. There are several natural monuments within the atoll, including Half Moon Caye, a marine protected area created by the Belizean government to support rare bird species.
- The Belize Barrier Reef is an integral part of the greater Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second longest in the world. Stretching along 1000 kilometers (600 miles) of the coastlines of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, the reef system is a major hub for marine species and one of the most biodiverse places on Earth.
Figure 8: The astronaut photograph ISS062-E-81945 was acquired on March 5, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 380 millimeter lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Laura Phoebus)
• August 21, 2020: Flying 400 km above our heads, the International Space Station (ISS) is the world's laboratory in space. But what kind of research is done there and how does it affect our lives on Earth? 10)
Figure 9: ESA expert Dr. Jason Hatton discusses notable research from the ISS and how the unique location of this facility allows us to explore never-before-seen phenomena in this episode of Meet the Experts (video credit: ESA)
• August 19, 2020: ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst during his 2018 stay on the International Space Station, with two floating SPHERES robots, tethered to a container of liquid, serving to simulate the experience of pulling a derelict satellite out of orbit. 11)
- The sloshing of liquid inside a partially filled fuel tank can alter its trajectory – like throwing a half-filled bottle of water through the air. The Station’s freeflying Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) were used to test out how sloshing might affect the towing of a partially fuelled satellite out of orbit, as a means of tackling space debris.
- The liquid-filled container was tethered between two gas-propelled SPHERES to be pulled in a pre-programmed trajectory. The results have been studied by ArianeGroup in Germany in a recently concluded project, supported through ESA’s General Support Technology Program, contributing to detailed software modelling of the container’s sloshing motion.
- ESA, in partnership with the Netherlands, has previously flown an entire satellite to investigate sloshing behavior, which is also important for the flight of launchers and spacecraft: FLEVO-Sloshsat, in 2005.
Figure 10: The Tether Slosh project was a collaboration of researchers, scientists, and developers from Airbus Defence and Space/ArianeGroup in Bremen, Germany and Houston; Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Tencors from Florida, NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, and NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston (image credit: NASA/ESA)
• August 16, 2020: Two of Earth’s most colorful upper atmospheric phenomena, aurora and airglow, met just before dawn in this photo shot by an astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS). Wavy green, red-topped wisps of aurora borealis appear to intersect the muted red-yellow band of airglow as the ISS passed just south of the Alaskan Peninsula. The rising Sun, behind Earth’s limb at the time of this photo, adds a deep blue to the horizon. Light from cities in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, joins starlight to dot the early morning skyscape. 12)
- Though they appear at similar altitudes, aurora and airglow are produced by different physical processes. Nighttime airglow (or nightglow) is a type of chemiluminescence—the emission of light from chemical interactions between oxygen, nitrogen, and other molecules in the upper atmosphere. Airglow occurs all around the Earth, all the time. However, “nightglow” is much easier to spot over a dark Earth than “dayglow,” as airglow is just one billionth as bright as the Sun.
- Auroras, on the other hand, stem from interactions between solar energy and Earth’s magnetic field. The magnetic field funnels the energy into the upper atmosphere, where it interacts with the same atoms as airglow (mainly oxygen and nitrogen). This is why both phenomena can produce similar colors. The dynamic nature of Earth’s magnetic field moves the solar energy in irregular ways, causing each aurora event to be visually unique.
- Recently, the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit at NASA’s Johnson Space Center used machine learning to identify all of the photos that astronauts have taken of auroras over the past few decades. Search the Gateway to Astronaut Photograph of Earth database for “aurora” to see more than 270,000 photos of these magnetic marvels.
Figure 11: This astronaut photograph ISS062-E-98264 was acquired on March 16, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 50 millimeter lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Alex Stoken)
• August 9, 2020: This photograph, taken by an astronaut from the International Space Station (ISS), captures the bright urban lights of two Chinese port cities. Xiamen and Quanzhou stand out amidst a complex network of roads and railways and the night-darkened waters of the South China Sea. 13)
- Inland areas are mountainous here, with less urban development to illuminate the landscape. Smaller towns and roads zig-zag through the valleys. Closer to the coast, several islands and small harbors make up one of China’s most highly trafficked port regions. Offshore, two bright clusters of pixels are likely ships traveling to or from one of the harbors.
- The ancient city of Quanzhou was once one of the most important ports along the Maritime Silk Road. Beyond its role as a major center of commerce and trade, Quanzhou remains a major manufacturing center in China.
Figure 12: The astronaut photograph ISS060-E-60237 was acquired on September 12, 2019, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 50 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Laura Phoebus)
• August 2, 2020: Red-tinted sands and dark green braided streams provide a colorful contrast within Australia’s Channel Country. As the International Space Station (ISS) was passing over southwest Queensland, an astronaut took this photo of the Cooper Creek floodplain. 14)
- The Barcoo and Thomson rivers flow southwest and converge north of the town of Windorah to form Cooper Creek, a major river system that flows toward Lake Yamma Yamma and Lake Eyre (both outside this frame). The broad, gently sloping floodplain—more than 50 kilometers (30 miles) wide in some areas—allows for the development of a complex network of shallow channels carved by seasonal floods. The region provides significant habitat for water birds and has been classified by the Australian government as an Important Bird Area.
- Ancient linear dunes, trending in an east-west direction, rise above the floodplain. Their Mars-like red color comes from traces of iron that coat larger quartz grains. Lnown as paleodunes, these features point to a drier past climate during their formation and migration. As the climate in this region has become slightly wetter (but still arid), vegetation density has increased, reducing the impact of wind and water on the dunes and halting most of their migration. There is some reshaping of sediment at the top of the dunes due to winds.
- The combination of stable, ancient dunes and water channels displaying both braided and cross-connecting patterns make this region a planetary analogue for Mars. Studying the physical features of an arid land, whether from orbit or ground level, can prepare humans for exploration of worlds beyond our own.
Figure 13: The astronaut photograph ISS062-E-136862 was acquired on April 5, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 116 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Andrew Britton)
• July 26, 2020: Even without knowing the location of the scene below, the lack of vegetation and standing water reveal this to be an arid place. Death Valley is known for its extreme dryness and dangerous heat records. However, traces on the land indicate that water sometimes flows here. 15)
- An astronaut onboard the International Space Station captured this view of the southern end of Death Valley National Park. High-resolution photography of bare landscapes can expose complex geology. Shadows accentuate the sharp angles and slot canyons of the Owlshead Mountains.
- Surrounding those rocky textured outcrops, alluvial fans and dry lake beds appear as smoother landscapes. When rare rains do fall, sediment is carried from the mountains and deposited as alluvial fans in the valleys. Dry lakes—such as Lost and Owl—can appear at the junctions of multiple alluvial fans, where water accumulates and then quickly evaporates away.
- Variations in rock colors and mountain shapes provide clues of previous seismic and volcanic activity here. The Owlshead Mountains are made of light-colored, older plutonic rocks and darker, younger volcanic rocks. The Amargosa River follows along a large fault zone leading to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America (north of this photo).
- Badwater Road appears in faint traces cutting across the fan. Between the road and the Owlshead Mountains, smaller strike-slip faults create slot canyons where people can hike through the remote area.
Figure 14: The astronaut photograph ISS061-E-31529 was acquired on November 5, 2019, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 400 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 61 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Andrea Meado)
• July 21, 2020: Expedition 63 Commander Christopher Cassidy and Joint Operations Commander Robert Behnken, both NASA astronauts, completed the three and a half year process of upgrading the International Space Station’s power systems during a spacewalk on 21 July.16)
- Upon exiting the Quest airlock, Cassidy and Behnken’s EVA-68 marked the 12th and final in a series of spacewalks to replace all of the aging Nickel-Hydrogen (Ni-H2) batteries located on the outside of the ISS with newer Lithium-Ion batteries.
Figure 15: The spacewalk, designated US EVA-68, marked the 10th EVA for both astronauts, who have each accumulated over 50 hours of spacewalking time each during their respective careers (image credit: NASA TV)
- The effort to replace the batteries began in January 2017 when Expedition 50 astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson ventured outside to begin the labor-intensive process on the S4 Truss segment.
- In the three and a half years since, NASA and International astronauts have carried out nine more EVAs as part of the replacement efforts, fully replacing the older batteries on the S4, P4 and P6 truss segments and leaving just the S6 Truss remaining.
- Chris Cassidy, who launched aboard Soyuz MS-16 in April of this year, and Behnken, who launched the following month aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission, had already completed two spacewalks focusing on the replacement of batteries on the S6 Truss element’s 1B electrical channel before moving on to the 3B power channel — work that completed today.
- The first of those two spacewalks for the 1B power channel occurred on 26 June, with the second following on 1 July.
- Each truss segment contains two power channels, each with its own solar arrays and set of batteries. Cassidy and Behnken’s first two EVAs successfully completed replacement of all six batteries of the 1B power channel on the S6 Truss.
- Behnken and Cassidy began work on the 3B power channel on the S6 truss last week with the goal of removing five of six 3B channel Ni-H2 batteries followed by installation of the first three lithium-ion batteries.
- Cassidy and Behnken worked so far ahead of the planned timeline on that spacewalk that they were actually able to remove all six Ni-H2 batteries instead of just the five per the original plan — which officially completed removal of all Ni-H2 batteries from the Station’s power systems.
- With the spacewalk successful, it marked the penultimate EVA in the effort to upgrade the batteries on the ISS.
- The final spacewalk, EVA-68, took place July 21st and saw Behnken and Cassidy complete the battery and electrical work, bringing an end to the three and a half year process.
- The six new lithium-ion batteries installed over Chris and Bob’s four spacewalks were delivered aboard the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kounotori-9 (HTV-9) resupply spacecraft, which berthed to the Station May 25th.
- Cassidy and Behnken also performed a host of other tasks on this EVAs, including — among other things — routing and connecting ethernet cables for external experiment data transmission to scientists.
- Toward the end of the spacewalk, Behnken and Cassidy made their way down from the S6 truss towards the Node 3/Tranquility module in order to prepare the module for installation of the commercially built Bishop CubeSat airlock module, which will be used to deploy small satellites from the ISS.
- NanoRacks, an American company that has built several technologies utilized today aboard the ISS, have developed Bishop alongside Thales Alenia Space and Boeing, and are set to see it launched in October this year as un-pressurized cargo aboard SpaceX’s Commercial Resupply Services-21 (CRS-21) mission — the first flight of SpaceX’s upgraded Cargo Dragon 2 spacecraft.
• July 19, 2020: The winding Mississippi River historically has been used to define many state lines in the United States. This photo, taken by an astronaut onboard the International Space Station (ISS), has been annotated to show the current state boundary (yellow line) between Arkansas and Mississippi. 17)
- As the Mississippi River meanders over time, the channels migrate across the floodplain. Due to these changes in the position of the channel, some farms, towns, and rural lands occasionally switch to the opposite banks of the river. For instance, Archer and Bell islands are still official parts of Arkansas, but they are now located east of the Mississippi River.
- Sunglint reflects off of the water surfaces, outlining the banks of the river and likely differentiating turbulent surface flow from slower moving water. Over thousands of years, the turbulent meandering of the river has transformed the floodplain, creating oxbow lakes and cutting new channels into the surrounding landscape. Lake Chicot is considered the largest oxbow lake in the United States, spanning 5,300 acres (2,145 hectares). In the photo, sunglint on the lake has a glossier appearance than the river, potentially due to less disturbance of the water surface.
- The Mississippi River Basin is home to many small towns and cities and a variety of agricultural activity. Nutrient-rich soil from sediment deposits throughout the floodplain supports productive cropland close to the river and its tributaries. In this photo taken during planting season, the farms are mostly distinguished by tan-brown rectangular fields, which will turn green as summer crops grow. Farming of cotton, corn, soybeans, and sweet potatoes makes up a significant portion of this area’s economic production.
- Life along the Mississippi River has its hazards, particularly flooding. Greenville and other nearby cities were almost completely submerged during the “Great Flood of 1927.” As recently as this winter, seasonal flooding took a toll on this area. To mitigate these risks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Army Corps of Engineers, and other agencies regularly monitor river levels, weather, and crop growing conditions to help farmers to plan for the growing seasons and floods.
Figure 16: The wandering river is a boon to farming, but it has no interest in state borders. This astronaut photograph ISS062-E-121160 was acquired on April 2, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 240 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew. Note that north is to the left in this image (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Sara Schmidt)
• July 14, 2020: Skygazers across the Northern Hemisphere are being treated to stunning views of comet NEOWISE as it streaks past Earth. Amateur astrophotographer Javier Manteca got a bonus: the International Space Station and the comet are both seen transiting Madrid in this photo captured 11 July. 18)
Figure 17: Taken at dawn, the picture is a composition of 17 stacked images exposed every 2.5 seconds to form the skyline. Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE is named after NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission that discovered it in March 2020. The comet completed its perihelion, or closest pass of the Sun, on 3 July and is headed back out of our Solar System, not to return for another 6800 years (image credit: Javier Manteca)
- Comets are the icy remnants from the formation of the planets 4.6 billion years ago, prompting scientists to think of them as cosmic time capsules. Comets have distinctive tails caused by dust grains being swept away from the comet’s nucleus.
- The comet's flyby of Earth is a rare opportunity to observe and collect data on these cosmic time capsules. Many spacecraft have observed the comet, including the ESA/NASA SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) as well as astronauts on board the International Space Station.
- ESA’s comet chaser Rosetta trailed comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko for two years before landing the Philae probe on its surface. The mission amassed a wealth of data that will be studied for years to come.
• July 12, 2020: An astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) took this photograph of Lake Rukwa, one of the smaller lakes of the East African Rift. The image captures the southernmost 100 km (60 miles) of the lake, one of several that occupy the deep, down-faulted depressions in Earth’s crust that characterize the region. 19)
- The straight margins of Lake Rukwa were formed by faults of the rift. Several deltas have formed along the lake margins, with the Songwe and Momba rivers building the largest.
- At the time of this photo in March 2020, the distributaries of the Momba and Songwe deltas were pulsing with muddy water. All of the rivers leading to these deltas appear to have brought down mud loosened by rains in the days before the photo was taken, giving Lake Rukwa a red-brown color. The thin darker, green streaks in the middle of the lake may be remnants of clear water from before the influx of mud, or they may be algae blooms. White patches on and near the Songwe River delta are small salt ponds and the open-cast pit of the New Luika gold mine.
- Lake Rukwa supports Tanzania’s third largest fishery. The long deep lakes of the Rift region—called the “great lakes of central Africa”—are major tourist attractions. The area to the west of Lake Rukwa (lower left) is part of the Uwanda Rukwa Game Reserve. Previous astronauts also have had their eyes drawn to Lake Bangweulu in neighboring Zambia.
Figure 18: The astronaut photograph ISS062-E-105915 was acquired on March 24, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 170 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Justin Wilkinson)
• July 4, 2020: This photograph, taken by an astronaut from the International Space Station (ISS), illustrates several environmental wonders and highlights of the Pacific Northwest of the United States. 20)
- The Cascade Mountains, running north-south along the right side of the image, extend from southern British Columbia in Canada through Washington, Oregon, and Northern California in the U.S. The rugged terrain is largely masked by snow in this photograph from mid-April 2020. Several of the peaks are active volcanoes in the Cascade arc. Rising to an elevation of 10,525 feet (3,207 meters), Glacier Peak is one of the youngest and most active volcanoes in the range.
- Olympic National Park occupies the center of the Olympic Peninsula in northwestern Washington. Naturalist John Muir, known as “the Father of the National Parks,” explored and documented this wilderness in the late 1800s, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated the area as a national park in 1938. The park features a spectrum of ecosystems, from rugged coastline to temperate rainforests to the glaciated peaks of the Olympic Mountain Range.
- The Salish Sea encompasses several waterways, including the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound. Situated within these waterways is an archipelago called the San Juan Islands, which were formed from strong bedrock that resisted the glacial scouring of the surrounding straits. The islands were proclaimed a national monument by President Barack Obama in 2013 due to their ecological significance as a home to diverse species and several ecosystems ranging from sandy beaches to Douglas fir forests.
Figure 19: This astronaut photograph ISS062-E-148249 was acquired on April 13, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 50 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Laura Phoebus)
• June 23, 2020: This panorama of the International Space Station is a wider view of what ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano was capturing on camera during the first of a series of historic spacewalks that took place in November 2019. 21)
Figure 20: Author, journalist and researcher Lee Brandon-Cremer created this photo by stitching together three images taken by Luca as he made his way to the worksite during the first Extravehicular Activity or EVA to service the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), the Station’s dark matter detector (image credit: L. Brandon-Cremer)
- "For every spacewalk there are thousands of images taken. Sometimes a few images jump out at me,” he explains. “One day I realized I could stitch these images together to expand the scene and show what the astronaut sees in a broader sense.”
- To create this view, Lee first went looking for images with common points. This proved tricky: of the 1000 or so images he scanned, he found three that could be worked into two expanded photos of the Space Station.
- He then joined and lightly edited the images to create a smooth photograph, a technique referred to as “stitching”.
- In the final image you can see the white panel radiators that keep the Space Station cool. The spacecraft on the left is a Soyuz. On the right is the Kibo module, with Japanese flag visible. The Space Station is flying to the right in this picture.
- Nowadays we are spoiled for space imagery. From satellites circling the Earth and spacecraft taking selfies to astronaut snaps from the International Space Station, there is no shortage of photographs at which to marvel – and they are easy to access.
- Aside from the critical role these images play in aiding scientific studies of Earth, the Solar System and outer space, they are important tools for science communication and public engagement.
- One advantage of space imagery made public is how it engages citizen scientists and students all over the world. Take two projects as examples:
- Cities at Night asks residents to identify major cities at night as seen by astronauts from the Space Station to help map out and combat light pollution. The Climate Detectives school project tasks students with investigating a local climate problem and proposing a solution by studying Earth observation satellite imagery.
- For others like Lee, the images are a source of inspiration and creativity.
- “It’s truly thrilling for me to recreate these broader views and it makes me wonder how many more unique views like this one captured by Luca are hiding in space agency archives,” Lee adds.
• June 21, 2020: A day after the summer solstice, a new Moon passed in front of the Sun to create an annular eclipse across large swaths of Asia and Africa. An astronaut aboard the International Space Station shot this photograph of the Moon’s shadow passing over China during the eclipse on June 21, 2020. 22)
- An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes in front of the Sun but is too far away from Earth to completely obscure the solar disk. From the ground, viewers can see a thin ring of sunlight around the Moon’s edge—hence why the event is affectionately called a “ring of fire” eclipse.
Figure 21: This astronaut ISS062-E-31769 was acquired on June 21, 2020, with a Nikon D4 digital camera using an 50 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 63 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, text by Kasha Patel)
• June 21, 2020: As the International Space Station (ISS) was passing over the Horn of Africa, an astronaut shot this photograph of Somalia’s capital city, Mogadishu. This historic port on the coast of the Indian Ocean is home to more than 2 million people. 23)
- Just inland from the coast, sand dunes flank the urban area. Prevailing winds from the east-northeast shape the dunes into ridges perpendicular to the wind direction. Geologists call these “transverse dunes.” The red and orange colors in the dune fields are due to natural chemical and weathering processes that left behind traces of iron in the sandy minerals. These dunes stand in contrast to the lightly-colored, calcium carbonate-rich sands near the shore.
- Further inland, rectangular agricultural fields are visible near the town of Afgoye. A small segment of the vital Shebelle River is visible running through the farmland and town. The Shebelle starts in Ethiopia’s highlands and trends south towards the Jubba River (far outside this photo to the right).
Figure 22: The astronaut photograph ISS062-E-39375 was acquired on February 19, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 400 millimeter lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Andrew Britton)
• June 14, 2020: Sunglint reflects off the Mediterranean Sea, highlighting the islands of Corsica and Sardinia in this photo taken as an astronaut was looking south from the International Space Station (ISS). The islands have rugged, mountainous terrain with small lakes that also reflect sunlight. 24)
- Clouds are scattered throughout the photo, with some of those over the water aligning with changes in sunglint patterns. That is, the wind is likely blowing in the same direction at the sea surface and where the clouds are. The intensity of sunglint depends on the Sun’s angle with respect to the ISS orbit path and the astronaut’s point of view. But it also depends upon the smoothness or roughness of the water surface.
- This photo shows the brightest sunglint along the eastern coasts of the islands (left sides in this view), where the sea is relatively calm. The high contrast between sunglinted water and land gives clarity to the jagged coastlines of Corsica and Sardinia. Sailors familiar with this area carefully navigate the rocky capes when seeking safe harbors.
- Westerly winds funneling between the islands at the Strait of Bonifacio disturb the sea surface and subdue some of the reflective glint off the water. The rough water surface scatters sunlight in many directions, resulting in less light reflected back towards the astronaut’s handheld camera.
- South of Sardinia, the coasts of Tunisia and Algeria also have the dark, vegetated hue indicative of the Mediterranean climate. Looking farther toward the horizon, the Sahara Desert stretches as far as the eye can see.
Figure 23: The astronaut photograph ISS062-E-44814 was acquired on February 21, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 58 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Andrea Meado)
• June 10, 2020: Two inland deltas spring from the landscape near the confluence of the Blue and White Niles. An astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) took this oblique photograph showing a swath of southeastern Sudan near Ethiopia. The White Nile River snakes diagonally across the frame, splitting the tan and brown tones of the arid Sahara Desert from the wetter, greener Sahel. 25)
- The White Nile carries sediment from its source region in central Africa. The sediment can make the water appear light-toned in comparison to the clearer water of the Blue Nile, which carries less sediment. The two rivers join to form the River Nile at a confluence near the city of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.
- High annual rainfall associated with the Ethiopian Plateau and its foothills (top right) supplies the Blue Nile with large quantities of water; in the rainy season it amounts to nearly 70 percent of the water in the River Nile north of the confluence. The Blue Nile makes irrigation possible on 400,000 hectares (one million acres) of land, partly for the cultivation of cotton.
- The irrigated zone south of Khartoum (north is to the left) is the inland delta of the Blue Nile, a wide area of soft river sediment laid down by the river. The photo also includes the inland delta generated by a tributary of the White Nile.
- Inland deltas are roughly triangular, delta-shaped plains of sediment deposited over thousands of years, but without the influence of a body of water like “true” deltas. Inland deltas are often termed megafans to show this difference. The inland deltas along the Nile have been ideal locations for cultivation not only because of the water supply, but also because they are topographically flat and therefore easily plowed and irrigated.
Figure 24: This astronaut photograph ISS061-E-21164 was acquired on October 29, 2019, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 50 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 61 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Justin Wilkinson)
• June 9, 2020: Did you know that in microgravity you can better study the boiling process? — Boiling is a very common process in our everyday life. For instance, we usually boil water to cook or to clean. The boiling process is common in many engineering fields such as environmental applications and industrial chemical processes. 26)
- Understanding the dynamics of boiling is essential to improve energy production and conversion in power plants, and to design future space applications like cryogenic fuel storage and propulsion.
- On Earth the process happens too fast to be accurately observed and measured. But experiments conducted in low gravity environments, like on the International Space Station, allow us to observe phenomena like phase transition and the onset of bubbles much more clearly.
- Such studies may lead to increase the energy efficiency of several application also here on Earth, from Power plants to thermal management systems used in electric vehicles, laptops, and smartphones just to cite a few examples.
Figure 25: This video interviews Peter Stephan of the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany talking about the Reference mUltiscale Boiling Investigation experiment, known affectionately as Rubi. Paolo Di Marco of the University of Pisa in Italy talks about pulsating heat pipe experiments and Catherine Colin from the Institut de Mécanique des Fluides de Toulouse in France talks about heat transfer flow boiling and how to keep electronics cool. Lastly Giuseppe Zummo, of Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development, ENEA, explains how parabolic flights are used to test new two-phase flow heat transfer in weightlessness (video credit: ESA - European Space Agency)
- Do take advantage of the opportunities and capabilities that are available for your research and development to further grow and extend your achievements. Take the next step ... the step to Space. We did it already.
• June 2, 2020: ESA Education, in collaboration with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, are excited to announce that 6350 teams of students and young people, from all 25 eligible countries, successfully entered Mission Zero, and had their programs run on the Astro Pi computers on board the International Space Station for 30 seconds each! 27)
Figure 26: Chris Cassidy overseeing the Mission Zero experiments (image credit: ESA/NASA)
- The teams measured the temperature inside the ISS Columbus module, and used the Astro Pi LED matrix to display the measurement together with a greeting to the astronauts, including Chris Cassidy, who oversaw this year’s experiments.
- In addition, 208 teams of students and young people are currently participating in Phase 4 of Mission Space Lab. Over the last few weeks, each of these teams has had their scientific experiments run on either Astro Pi Ed or Astro Pi Izzy or 3 hours each.
- Astro Pi Ed was helping the participants investigate life in space, using sensors to measure the conditions on the ISS and even mapping the magnetic field of Earth. Teams used Astro Pi Izzy’sr near-infrared camera to investigate life on Earth, such as vegetation health and the impact of human life on our planet.
Figure 27: Astro Pi experiment (image credit: ESA/NASA)
- All Mission Space Lab teams have now received their data back from the ISS to analyze and summarize in their final scientific reports. Teams are receiving special guidance and advice on how best to collaborate remotely to write these reports during the COVID-19 pandemic, and have been given an extended submission deadline of 3 July 2020.
Program deployment, but not as we know it
- This year, we encountered a problem during the deployment of some Life on Earth experiments. When we downloaded the first batch of data from the ISS, we realized that Astro Pi Izzy had an incorrect setting, which resulted in some pictures turning pink! Furthermore, the CANADARM was the middle of the window view.
- Needless to say, this would have had a negative impact on many experiments, so we put in a special request to NASA to remove the CANADARM arm and we reset Izzy. This meant that the process took longer than normal, but we managed to re-run all experiments and capture some fantastic images!
Figure 28: CANADARM from Astro Pi Izzy’s view of Earth (image credit: ESA/NASA)
Celebrating your achievements
- Every team that participated in Mission Zero or Mission Space Lab this year will receive a special certificate as in recognition of each teams' achievements during the challenge. The Mission Zero certificates will feature the coordinates of the ISS when your programs were run! We’d love to see pictures of these hanging in your homes, schools or clubs! The programs received this year were outstanding in quality, creativity, and technical skill.
Who will win Mission Space Lab 2019/2020?
- A jury of experts appointed by ESA and the Raspberry Pi Foundation will judge all of the reports, then select the 10 best reports; these teams will become the winners of the European Astro Pi Challenge 2019/20. Each of the 10 winning teams will receive a special prize.
- Finally, congratulations to all the teams that have taken part in Astro Pi Mission Space Lab this year. We hope that you found it as interesting and as fun as we did, we can’t wait to read your reports!
• June 2, 2020: For the first time in nine years, NASA astronauts were launched from American soil on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS). For the first time in history, those astronauts flew on a commercially built and operated spacecraft. 28)
- The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley lifted off at 3:22 p.m. EDT on May 30, 2020, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The spacecraft was launched atop a reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The black and white infrared image above highlights the combustion powering the rocket as it soared above the Florida coast.
- Behnken and Hurley named their spacecraft Endeavour as a tribute to the first space shuttle that both astronauts had flown aboard. Endeavour also flew the penultimate mission of the Space Shuttle Program, launching in May 2011 from the same pad.
- Dragon Endeavour docked successfully with the ISS about nineteen hours after reaching orbit. It arrived at the station’s Harmony port while both were about 262 miles (422 kilometers) above the northern border of China and Mongolia. The photograph of Figure 29 shows the spacecraft approaching the space station with part of southwestern Turkey—including the coastal city of Demre—in the background.
Figure 29: May 31, 2020: This photo shows the spacecraft just before docking (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, the image was taken by a member of the Expedition 63 crew with a Nikon D4 digital camera using a 600 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center)
- Known as NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2, the mission is a test flight to validate the SpaceX crew transportation system, including launch, in-orbit, docking, and landing operations. It was SpaceX’s second spaceflight test of its Crew Dragon, and its first test with astronauts aboard. The mission will pave the way for its certification for regular crew flights to ISS as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
- “It’s difficult to put into words how proud I am of the people who got us here today,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manager. “When I think about all of the challenges overcome—from design and testing, to paper reviews, to working from home during a pandemic and balancing family demands with this critical mission —I am simply amazed at what the NASA and SpaceX teams have accomplished together.
Figure 30: Photo of the Crew Dragon approaching the ISS (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, the image was taken by a member of the Expedition 63 crew, caption by Adam Voiland and Michael Carlowicz based on information from NASA press releases)
- Located in central Hungary, Budapest is home to approximately 20 percent of the country’s population. The core of the city is divided by the Danube River, visible here as the dark void between the central lights of the downtown areas. The Danube is Europe’s second-longest river, and it flows through the city from the north and continues until it empties into the Black Sea. The two sides of Budapest are connected by several bridges visible near the city center.
- The different concentrations of lights on the two sides of the river are indicative of the population and structure of the modern city. Budapest is a unification of three different cities: Buda, Pest, and Obuda (a historical city). Buda, on the west bank of the river, is more residential and compact because of the constraints of steeper terrain. Pest, on the east bank, has a flatter topography leading to a more sprawling, radial structure stretching outward from the center.
Figure 31: Budapest at night. The astronaut photograph ISS062-E-102615 was acquired on March 18, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 200 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Laura Phoebus)
• May 17, 2020: Popcorn clouds dot the landscape over the Brazilian cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Gonçalo in this photograph taken by an astronaut looking down from the International Space Station (ISS). Rio de Janeiro is home to more than 6.5 million people. 30)
- Clouds had formed over rural areas and densely populated cities but are noticeably absent above Guanabara Bay, the coastal lagoons, and the ocean due to the mechanisms of cloud formation. Heat from the Sun warms the land surfaces in the area, which then warms the air directly above it. That warm air, and all of its cloud-making water vapor, then rises and condenses into clouds.
- Bodies of water, on the other hand, do not change temperature as rapidly; the water remains cooler even during full Sun exposure. The water does not heat up enough to significantly warm the air above it, preventing air from rising to make clouds. This, and many additional climate processes, can be traced to the different average heat capacity of water and land.
- The cloudless window over Guanabara Bay allows for a view of its largest island, Governador Island. A sharp boundary separates the telltale shapes the runways of Rio de Janeiro-Galeão International Airport’s and the densely populated eastern half of the island. The famed beaches of the area, such as Copacabana, line the Atlantic shore.
Figure 32: The astronaut photograph ISS062-E-113274 was acquired on March 25, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 140 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Alex Stoken)
• May 15, 2020: Research activities conducted aboard the International Space Station the week of May 11 included studies of fire safety in space and plant-water dynamics and several ongoing astrophysics investigations. 31)
- Now in its 20th year of continuous human presence, the space station provides a platform for long-duration research in microgravity and for learning to live and work in space. Experience gained on the orbiting lab supports Artemis, NASA’s program to go forward to the Moon and on to Mars.
- Here are details on some of the microgravity investigations currently taking place:
Burning a safe distance away
- After the Cygnus cargo craft departed the space station on Monday, May 11, its Slingshot mechanism deployed several small satellites. Cygnus also provided a safe environment for a study of fire in microgravity, hosting operations of the Spacecraft Fire Safety Experiment – IV (Saffire-IV) after its departure. Understanding how fires spread in space is vital for developing flame-resistant materials and fire prevention measures, but it is difficult to perform flame growth and prevention experiments aboard an occupied spacecraft. Saffire-IV examines fire growth in different materials and environmental conditions and demonstrates fire detection, monitoring and post-fire cleanup capabilities.
Untended astrophysics and quantum mechanics investigations
- Thanks to increasing automation and careful planning, more and more investigations aboard the space station require little or no crew involvement. Examples of such investigations currently operating include the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer - 02 (AMS-02), Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI).
- Scientists theorize that stars, planets and the molecules they contain represent less than five percent of the mass-energy content of the universe. The rest is dark energy and dark matter, which cannot be directly detected. AMS-02 looks for evidence of this mysterious substance by recording cosmic rays, highly energetic particles that bombard Earth from space. Originally planned as a three-year mission, AMS operated for more than 8 years before astronauts repaired and upgraded it, a process that took four spacewalks. Scientists now expect to collect data from AMS for many more years, including through a complete solar cycle. Its repairs notwithstanding, AMS typically operates autonomously, requiring only a power source from the space station.
- Earlier this year, astronauts also performed major upgrades for CAL. This instrument produces clouds of atoms chilled to near absolute zero, much colder than the average temperature of deep space. This low temperature slows down atoms significantly so scientists can study fundamental behaviors and quantum characteristics that are difficult or impossible to probe at higher temperatures. CAL hardware is powered continuously, with operations conducted for 8 hours per day during crew sleep. It requires crew involvement only for installation, operation updates and, eventually, decommissioning.
- Another automated instrument, MAXI, continuously surveys X-ray sources and variabilities as the space station orbits Earth. Operating since 2009, so far MAXI has discovered new black hole candidates, reported more than 20 binary X-ray pulsar outbursts, detected X-ray flares from 12 stars and observed for the first time the instant that a massive black hole swallowed a star. The investigation also released a catalog for high Galactic-latitude sky sources and revealed the existence of a hypernova remnant estimated to be 3 million years old, likely the first in our galaxy.
Monitoring plants from space
- The ECOsystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station (ECOSTRESS) records high space-time resolution thermal infrared measurements of the surface of Earth at varying times during daylight. These measurements could help answer several key questions about water stress in plants and how selected regions of the planet may respond to future changes in climate. ECOSTRESS collects data whenever the space station passes over a target, with start and stop times programmed weekly from the ground, without need for crew involvement. Data are compressed and stored in memory then downlinked as bandwidth is available.
Other investigations on which the crew performed work:
a) Astrobee tests three self-contained, free-flying robots designed to assist astronauts with routine chores, give ground controllers additional eyes and ears and perform crew monitoring, sampling and logistics management.
b) AstroPi includes two augmented Raspberry Pi computers equipped with cameras and hardware that measures the environment inside the space station, detects how the station moves through space and picks up the Earth’s magnetic field. The ESA (European Space Agency) AstroPi Challenge offers students and other young people the opportunity to conduct scientific investigations in space by writing computer programs or code for the computers.
c) ISS Ham gives students an opportunity to talk directly with crew members via ham radio when the space station passes over their schools. This interaction engages and educates students, teachers, parents and other members of the community in science, technology, engineering and math.
Figure 33: NASA's Space to Ground is your weekly update on what's happening aboard the International Space Station (video credit: NASA/JSC)
• May 10, 2020: A surging dust storm and trailing dust cloud captured an astronaut’s attention as the International Space Station (ISS) was passing over South America. Dust storms are common in Patagonia and familiar for people in Comodoro Rivadavia, a coastal city in southern Argentina. 32)
- The primary source of dust is Lago Colhué Huapí, a shallow lake adjacent to the much deeper Lago Musters. During Patagonia’s dry season, the water levels of Colhué Huapí drop significantly due to evaporation, leaving loose silt exposed at the surface. In this photograph, the lake is almost entirely obscured by dust and clouds. At the western margin of the storm, dust lifted off from the ground in the form of dust streamers, which were aligned with the wind direction. These surface dust features are also observed on Mars.
- This striking weather event carried dust more than 120 kilometers (80 miles) east over land and eventually out over Golfo de San Jorge and the Atlantic Ocean. Many studies have shown that such dust activity is a major source of nutrients in the South Atlantic.
- The conditions promoting dust storms in the Patagonian desert tend to arise late in the afternoon, after most polar-orbiting satellites have passed overhead (typically at the same local time every day). The orbit of the ISS allows astronauts to view areas of Earth at different times of day, providing unique views of such natural phenomena.
Figure 34: Astronaut photograph ISS062-E-85589 was acquired on March 7, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 170 millimeter lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Andrew Britten)
• May 3, 2020: An astronaut onboard the International Space Station (ISS) took this photograph using a short camera lens, capturing almost all of Mexico in one shot. The wide field of view is framed by the center window of the ISS Cupola module and includes a solar array of the Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo spacecraft. 33)
- This view encompasses most of Mexico’s mountain ranges and long coastlines, though details like individual cities and volcanoes are not readily distinguishable. Active volcanoes like Popocatepetl, Colima, and Pico de Orizaba are nestled throughout the Sierra Madre del Sur mountains. Mexico City, which is regularly rattled by earthquakes, sits at the foot of Popocatepetl.
- Different climate zones are broadly visible in the image. On the southern coast facing the Gulf of Mexico, the climate is tropical and wet. Forests and coastal plains appear with a slight green tone. Looking inland, clouds tend to form around the mountains and often shroud tall volcanic peaks. The lighter toned tan-brown terrain of the interior is mostly desert country that stretches north across the U.S.-Mexico border.
Figure 35: The astronaut photograph ISS062-E-112947 was acquired on March 23, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 16 mm lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Andrea Meado)
• April 28, 2020: ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet in the Japanese HTV-6 cargo ferry during his six-month Proxima mission on the International Space Station on 13 December 2016. 34)
Figure 36: Thomas wrote this caption for the image: "This is what the inside of the HTV looks like. 2600 kg of science, equipment and supplies, very neatly packed and strapped to resist a launch to space! For first ingress into a cargo vehicle – after we equalize the pressure and open the hatch – we always wear a mask and take samples of the atmosphere. Safety first! Some dust or small debris could have gotten loose and become a hazard for the crew, and the atmosphere might be somehow polluted. Not the case with our pristine HTV-6!"(image credit: ESA/NASA)
• April 28, 2020: ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet (left) and NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson (Figure 37) using the European Microgravity Science Glovebox in the International Space Station during Thomas' six-month Proxima mission 13 February 2017. 35)
- The device allows astronauts to run experiments in a sealed and controlled environment, isolated from the rest of the International Space Station.
Figure 37: The gloves are the access points through which astronauts manipulate experiments, in the field of material science, biotechnology, fluid science, combustion science and crystal growth research (image credit: ESA/NASA)
- Scientific gloveboxes are common on Earth. To build a glovebox that will last at least ten years in weightlessness, however, was a much tougher proposition. The Microgravity Science Glovebox had to fit in a standard International Space Station equipment rack and be versatile enough to accommodate a huge range of experiments and materials - including a few that no one had thought of during the design stage.
• April 27, 2020: Take a break with ESA astronauts Alexander Gerst, Samantha Cristoforetti, Luca Parmitano and Thomas Pesquet as they discuss living and working in space. In this video, our astronauts talk about their experiences of landing in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft upon returning from the International Space Station. 36)
- During a shared coffee break, Luca compares his first landing to his most recent landing – the second of which he found much softer than the first. Thomas finds humor in his experience of landing horizontally, while Alex describes a particularly high gravitational load on his return to Earth.
Figure 38: This clip is part of a series of four filmed in February 2020, following Luca’s return from the ISS mission on 6 February. It was filmed in the crew quarters of the German Aerospace Center DLR’s :envihab facility next to ESA’s European Astronaut Center in Cologne, Germany (video credit: ESA)
• April 26, 2020: An astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS) took this oblique photograph of the Great Lakes in late winter. The international border between Canada and the United States snakes down the middle of lakes Superior, Huron, Erie, and Ontario. The spike of land jutting into Lake Superior is the Keweenaw Peninsula, the northern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (which you can also see here). 37)
- From late February to early March in most years, the winter cold freezes much of the surface area of the lakes. However, almost no ice is visible on any of the lakes in this view from February 21, 2020, except for a small accumulation around the Straits of Mackinac. The 22 percent ice cover at that point was significantly lower than the long-term average of 55 percent, and one of the lowest percentages on record.
- Small towns are difficult to see under snow, but you can make out Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Lake-effect snow appears “downwind” of Lake Michigan (on the lower peninsula of Michigan) and downwind of Lake Huron in Ontario.
Figure 39: Astronaut photograph ISS062-E-44966 was acquired on February 21, 2020, with a Nikon D5 digital camera using a 50 millimeter lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 62 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Justin Wilkinson)
• April 19, 2020: Farm fields of varying shapes and sizes cover many rural areas of Europe. The very narrow, rectangular plots in this photograph caught the eye of an astronaut as the International Space Station passed over west-central Poland. A tributary of the Oder River, the Warta River flows past the town of the same name (Note that north is to the right in this photo). 38)
- Damming of the Warta River in the 1980s created one of the largest reservoirs in the Lodz region of Poland. The dam was intended for agricultural irrigation, recreation, and for flood mitigation in the Warta River Valley. The upper end of the reservoir appears in the lower right of the image.
- The rural town of Warta, an agricultural community established in the mid-1200s, is home to many small, privately owned farms that mostly produce grains. Research suggests that there are old historical roots for those long and thin agricultural sections.
- During the spring and summer months, the southern part of the Jeziorsko Reservoir tapers off into a wet, marshy delta; it also serves as an ornithological refuge to protect species of wetland birds that live near or travel to the reservoir. The Jeziorsko Nature Reserve is the largest reserve in the Lodz Province. It is one of the many protected areas in the Natura 2000 program, designed to protect endangered species and habitats throughout Europe. Natura 2000 refuges make up nearly 20 percent of Poland’s area.
Figure 40: Narrow, rectangular farm plots with historic roots spread across the landscape near Warta. The astronaut photograph ISS048-E-7144 was acquired on June 26, 2016, with a Nikon D4 digital camera using an 800 millimeter lens and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by a member of the Expedition 48 crew (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory, caption by Sara Schmidt)
• April 18, 2020: Understanding how Earth’s climate behaves is a significant, but important, challenge that NASA supports through data collection. When scientists better comprehend and monitor water and energy cycles, ecosystem changes, sea levels, geological hazards and population migrations, they can provide useful information to decision makers and the broader public regarding climate changes. Earth observations taken from space have provided decades of data that revolutionized weather tracking and forecasting, and provided insights into geophysical and atmospheric changes. 39)
- To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we look at how the International Space Station has contributed to this important data set for the nearly 20 years that humans have been constantly on board, and its state-of-the-art tools monitoring our planet right now. The space station does much more than just snap photos of our planet. It has evolved into a robust platform for researchers studying Earth’s water, air, land masses, vegetation, and more, contributing new capabilities and unique data using systems mounted both inside and outside the orbiting laboratory.
- At 51 degrees inclination and a 90-minute orbit, the station affords a unique perspective with an altitude of approximately 400 km and an orbital path over 90 percent of the Earth’s population. This orbital path can provide improved spatial resolution and variable lighting conditions compared to the sun-synchronous orbits of typical Earth remote-sensing satellites.
- Several external instruments, including ECOSTRESS, GEDI, OCO-3, DESIS, and HISUI, obtain useful information for researchers looking to better understand Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and surface. Though they individually collect data, in combination they provide a unique set of measurements that could push the leading edge of environmental research.
- One Earth observation sensor on the space station, the NASA ECOSTRESS (Ecosystem Spaceborne Thermal Radiometer Experiment on Space Station), measures vegetation temperatures to examine how plants interact with the global water cycle and where they are experiencing heat stress. By observing how Earth’s foliage responds to water availability, scientists aim to identify crucial thresholds for water use, obtain factors that help predict plant water uptake, and measure agricultural use to aid in drought response planning.
Figure 41: Image of ECOSTRESS data taken over Peru during 2019 wildfires that shows vegetation temperatures in response to water availability. The flame symbols show the locations of the fires whereas the colors indicate the level of evaporative stress. The browner a region is, the less water is available for plants (image credit: NASA)
- Two instruments that collect detailed information about materials that make up Earth’s surface are the Hyperspectral Imager Suite (HISUI) developed by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry and the German Space Agency (DLR) Earth Sensing Imaging Spectrometer (DESIS). The sensors detect many wavelengths of light reflected by different materials. These light measurements define signatures that are unique to different materials, thus can support resource identification, exploration, agriculture, forestry and other environmental uses.
Figure 42: ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst preparing the DESIS instrument for installation aboard the space station. The DESIS instrument works by measuring hyperspectral reflections from Earth’s surface which contributes to resource management, ecosystem health monitoring and urban development (image credit: NASA)
- Other instruments on the station are looking at how Earth’s carbon cycles behave, as well as what factors influence it. The NASA Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) system uses high resolution lasers to collect observations of Earth’s 3D vegetation structure. These data help researchers understand the impact of carbon sinks, or areas such as forests that absorb carbon dioxide, on the carbon cycle. Scientists are using data collected from GEDI to gain insight into the carbon balance of Earth’s forests, how the planet’s surface reduces atmospheric carbon, and the implications forests have on biodiversity and habitat quality, as well as to support land use efficiency.
- While GEDI is looking at the surface implications of changes to carbon sinks, NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) sensor uses sunlight reflections through the atmosphere to quantify variations in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The variability in the space station’s orbit allows OCO-3 to build on similar data collected from free-flying satellites, particularly over low latitudes. Scientists are using OCO-3 to build targeted “snapshot” maps of Earth’s carbon exchange cycle over urban areas, forests, mangroves, oceans and agricultural regions. With OCO-3, researchers will gain a better understanding of how vegetation carbon sinks behave, as well as how human activities and development are affecting them.
Figure 43: A chart of OCO-3 data that shows solar-induced fluorescence in western Asia. Areas with lower plant glow, indicating lower photosynthesis activity, are shown in light green. Areas with higher photosynthesis activity are shown in dark green (image credit: NASA)
- Remote sensing instruments on the space station complement research on the ground to develop new models, calibrate data and contextualize existing information that can aid researchers in establishing baselines and improving predictive models. While information from each sensor can be interpreted individually, a single orbital platform that collects multiple types of data for the same site or region provides the opportunity for enhanced scientific discovery and deeper understanding. This creates a kind of “observational symbiosis” in which different sensor datasets can inform and expand the science analysis done with other sensor data. For example, the 3D observations obtained from GEDI can be used alongside HISUI’s hyperspectral surface material signatures to help visualize Earth’s ecosystems. Together, all of the space station Earth observation instruments are helping scientists understand how Earth is changing, as well as how to best use and manage the resources it provides.
- Though every day may not be Earth Day, the work done by scientists and station instruments is continuously informing our understanding of the planet and how to protect it.
• April 17, 2020: NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan returned to Earth Friday, along with Soyuz Commander Oleg Skripochka of the Russian space agency Roscosmos. 40)
- The trio departed the International Space Station at 9:53 p.m. EDT Thursday and made a safe, parachute-assisted landing at 1:16 a.m. Friday in Kazakhstan (11:16 a.m. local time), southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan. During their first spaceflight, Morgan and Meir contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.
- Morgan’s nine-month mission began July 20, 2019. His 272-day flight spanned Expeditions 60-62, encompassing a total of 4,352 Earth orbits and a journey of 115.3 million miles. Morgan’s extended stay in space will increase knowledge about how the human body responds to longer-duration spaceflight, through the various investigations he supported, including the Fluid Shifts study. He also conducted seven spacewalks – totaling 45 hours and 48 minutes – four of which were to improve and extend the life of the station’s Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer as it looks for evidence of dark matter in the universe.
- Meir and Skripochka, who launched on the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft Sept. 25, 2019, spent 205 days in space, making 3,280 orbits of Earth during a trip of 86.9 million miles. During her first spaceflight, Meir conducted the first three all-woman spacewalks with crewmate Christina Koch of NASA, totaling 21 hours and 44 minutes. Among the investigations to which she contributed is a study co-led by a former colleague of hers, examining how human heart tissue functions in space. Skripochka is completing his third spaceflight for a cumulative 536 days in orbit.
- After post-landing medical checks, the crew will return by Russian helicopters to the recovery staging city in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, where they will split up. Morgan and Meir will board a NASA plane located in the adjacent city of Kyzlorda, Kazakhstan, for a flight back to Houston. Skripochka will board a Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center aircraft in Baikonur to return to his home in Star City, Russia.
- Among the research experiments to which the Expedition 62 crew contributed was the Droplet Formation Study, which evaluates water droplet formation, water flow and, indirectly, the perceived pressure of current shower head technology as compared to the industry-standard use of jet nozzles. The study examines droplet size and speed and how they affect the feeling of increased pressure for the end user. Another experiment to which the crew contributed was Mochii, a miniature scanning electron microscope used to conduct real-time, on-site imaging and composition measurements of particles. Analysis of small and microscopic particles is a critical need for human space exploration beyond low-Earth orbit when samples cannot be returned to Earth immediately for analysis.
- When the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft with Meir, Morgan and Skripochka departed, Expedition 63 officially began aboard the station, with NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy serving as station commander and Roscosmos’ Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner serving as flight engineers.
- The crew members of Expedition 63 are scheduled to be aboard the station to welcome NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, the first astronauts to launch from American soil to the space station since 2011, on NASA’s upcoming SpaceX Demo-2 flight test.
Figure 44: NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan and Soyuz Commander Oleg Skripochka of the Russian space agency Roscosmos on the International Space Station ( image credit: NASA)