NASA and the folks at the International Space Station (ISS) have a message for the world: “Smile, you’re almost on camera.”
The camera doesn’t actually belong to NASA; it belongs to a Canadian company based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, called UrtheCast. The folks there want to give subscribers the luxury of cruising around the world 16 times a day at 17,400 mph from a seat, or camera rather, mounted to the (ISS) 250 miles above earth.
That’s quite the ride.
UrtheCast is putting two cameras into orbit; one high definition video camera called Iris, and a medium definition sibling that has not been named yet. Iris, which will be attached to a bi-axial mount, will be able to aim at desired locations and stream near real-time video back to earth. Her sibling will remain locked in one position and stream back still pictures.
The cameras were loaded onto a Soyuz rocket and launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Dec. 2. They are now at the ISS and were to be installed by Cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy. The installation had been meticulously rehearsed in the Hydrolab, a water tank at the Star City Cosmonaut Training Center near Moscow. The installation went without a flaw until they tried to transmit the signal to earth. Unfortunately, the cameras remained blind to the Russian flight controllers below. The cosmonauts double checked all connectors, but they could not get the signal to work. With no other option available, they detached the cameras and returned them to the space station. Some time will be spent examining photos taken by the cosmonauts of the connections, and all other data will be processed to troubleshoot and hopefully solve the problem.
Once solved, there will be enough options available to bring a smile to subscribers. They will have the same view as NASA, but on their own time. The cameras will be shooting between latitudes 51º north and 51º south. Each pass will provide a 25 mile swath of footage every day of the year. The video clips will be around 60 seconds in length and shot in 4K-resolution. The base membership is free; all a person needs is an internet connection, a device to receive the signal, and thirty seconds to sign up. Subscribers will be able to visit and revisit desired locations to study changes throughout the year, or follow current events through video footage shot with Iris such as any new activity on Mount Etna for instance.
For those that want more, there are different options at different price-points. Customers will be able to determine camera tasking options and purchase the rights to the photos and videos taken during their allocated slot. Individuals, companies, and countries will be able to track predetermined areas in near real time. Deforestation, mining activities, flooding, and many other aspects of the earth can be examined which can help in any decision making process.
The cameras may have remained blind this week, hopefully that problem will be remedied soon, and when it is, NASA won’t be the only one to admire earth from above. “Smile, you’re on camera.”
By Scott Wilson