Visualizing HICO Ground Tracks Using Google Earth – A useful tool for project planning

Do you work with HICO imagery? Are you planning a project using HICO? Or perhaps you’re just interested in exploring where HICO will be acquiring imagery in the coming days?

If so, be sure to check out the ISS Orbit tool on the HICO website at Oregon State University. This tool allows you to interactively visualize the location of HICO ground track locations using Google Earth.

HICO ISS Orbit tool

The tool shows predicted HICO ground tracks in selected 1- or 3-day intervals up to six months in the future. However, even though orbital files are updated regularly, because of uncertainties in future ISS orbit specifics, the prediction is most accurate 2-3 days into the future and declines thereafter. So be cautious when planning fieldwork or image acquisitions for any extended time period.

For more information on ISS orbits characteristics, visit the NASA Space Station Orbit tutorial.

The ground tracks are displayed only for local daylight hours, and illustrate the nominal ground track (shown in teal above) as well as the full width available using HICO’s pointing capabilities (shown in grey above). Users have the option of also displaying the place names and locations of scheduled target areas for both ascending and descending orbits. Additionally, as the zoom level is increased, yellow dots appear in the visualization indicating the predicted time and date the ISS will pass over that location.

The HICO ISS Orbit tool requires the Google Earth plugin, which is available in Chrome, Firefox and IE (note that IE users may need to add the website to Compatibility View in the tool settings).

Let’s look at an example. Say you’re interested in exploring when HICO will be available to acquire imagery of Melbourne Harbor from April 5-11. Using the tool to step through the ISS orbits for those dates, it is revealed that Melbourne Harbor can be acquired on April 5 @ 22:26 and 5:45 GMT, April 6 @ 4:56 GMT and April 9 @ 4:05.

HICO Melbourne Harbor 040514

ISS Orbit tool: HICO – Melbourne Harbor 5-April-2014

HICO Melbourne Harbor 040614

ISS Orbit tool: HICO – Melbourne Harbor 6-April-2014

HICO Melbourne Harbor 040914

ISS Orbit tool: HICO – Melbourne Harbor 9-April-2014

Now let’s extend this example to see if Hyperion data is also available for Melbourne Harbor for the same dates. To do so, you will need to utilize COVE, a similar tool (best in Chrome or Firefox) with robust capabilities for visualizing ground tracks of numerous Earth observing satellites (but unfortunately not HICO or any other instruments on the ISS). Visit our earlier post for an overview of COVE’s capabilities.

Using COVE, it can be seen that Hyperion data is available for acquisition of Melbourne Harbor on April 9 @ 23:16 GMT. This closely coincident acquisition opportunity might provide some interesting data for comparing hyperspectral analysis techniques using HICO and Hyperion.

Hyperion Melbourne Harbor 040914

COVE tool: Hyperion – Melbourne Harbor 5-April-2014

So be sure to check out both the COVE and HICO ISS Orbit tools when planning your next mission.

HICO ISS Orbit tool:


About HICO ( “The Hyperspectral Imager for the Coastal Ocean (HICO™) is an imaging spectrometer based on the PHILLS airborne imaging spectrometers. HICO is the first spaceborne imaging spectrometer designed to sample the coastal ocean. HICO samples selected coastal regions at 90 m with full spectral coverage (380 to 960 nm sampled at 5.7 nm) and a very high signal-to-noise ratio to resolve the complexity of the coastal ocean. HICO demonstrates coastal products including water clarity, bottom types, bathymetry and on-shore vegetation maps. Each year HICO collects approximately 2000 scenes from around the world. The current focus is on providing HICO data for scientific research on coastal zones and other regions around the world. To that end we have developed this website and we will make data available to registered HICO Data Users who wish to work with us as a team to exploit these data.”

About Hyperion ( and “The Hyperion instrument provides a new class of Earth observation data for improved Earth surface characterization. The Hyperion provides a science grade instrument with quality calibration based on heritage from the LEWIS Hyperspectral Imaging Instrument (HSI). The Hyperion capabilities provide resolution of surface properties into hundreds of spectral bands versus the ten multispectral bands flown on traditional Landsat imaging missions. Through these spectral bands, complex land eco-systems can be imaged and accurately classified.The Hyperion provides a high resolution hyperspectral imager capable of resolving 220 spectral bands [from 400 to 2500 nm] with a 30-meter resolution. The instrument can image a 7.5 km by 100 km land area per image, and provide detailed spectral mapping across all 220 channels with high radiometric accuracy.”


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