Innovations and Innovators in Space – Elon Musk to speak at upcoming ISS R&D Conference 2015

Join us at ISS R&D 2015 – the International Space Station Research & Development Conference taking place in Boston, MA from July 7-9 – to connect with game-changing scientists and other experts who are driving innovation through space research.

This year’s featured keynote speaker is Elon Musk – transformative entrepreneur and space visionary – who will be taking the stage on Tuesday July 7 to share “his thoughts on enabling a new era of innovators through space exploration and the International Space Station.”

Elon Musk Keynote Speaker - ISS R&D 2015

Core topics to be discussed at ISS R&D 2015 include Biology and Medicine, Human Health in Space, Commercialization and Nongovernment Utilization, Materials Development, Plant Science, Remote Sensing/Earth and Space Observation, Energy, STEM Education, and Technology Development and Demonstration.

Are you new to space research? If so, see how space can you elevate your research! There’s a New User Workshop being held on Monday July 6 before the conference begins to introduce interested users to the benefits of conducting research in microgravity and utilizing the ISS for Earth observation.

For more information on the conference: http://www.issconference.org/

We look forward to seeing you there.

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A Look at What’s New in ENVI 5.2

Earlier this month Exelis Visual Information Solutions released ENVI 5.2, the latest version of their popular geospatial analysis software.

ENVI 5.2

ENVI 5.2 includes a number of new image processing tools as well as various updates and improvements to current capabilities. We’ve already downloaded our copy and started working with the new features. Here’s a look at what’s included.

A few of the most exciting new additions to ENVI include the Spatiotemporal Analysis tools, Spectral Indices tool, Full Motion Video player, and improved integration with ArcGIS:

  • Spatiotemporal Analysis. Just like the name sounds, this feature provides users the ability to analyze stacks of imagery through space and time. Most notably, tools are now available to build a raster series, where images are ordered sequentially by time, to reproject images from multiple sensors into a common projection and grid size, and to animate and export videos of these raster series.
  • Spectral Indices. Expanding on the capabilities of the previous Vegetation Index Calculator, the new Spectral Indices tool includes 64 different indices, which in addition to analyzing vegetation can also be used to investigate geology, man-made features, burned areas and water. The tool conveniently selects only those indices that can be calculated for a given input image dependent on its spectral characteristics. So when you launch the tool you’ll only see those indices that can be calculated using your imagery.
  • Full Motion Video. ENVI 5.2 now supports video, allowing users to not just play video, but also convert video files to time-enabled raster series and extract individual video frames for analysis using standard ENVI tools. Supported file formats include Skybox SkySat video, Adobe Flash Video and Shockwave Flash, Animated GIF, Apple Quicktime, Audio Video Interleaved, Google WebM Matroska, Matroska Video, Motion JPEG and JPEG2000, MPEG-1 Part 2, MPEG-2 Transport Stream, MPEG-2 Part 2, MPEG-4 Part 12 and MPEG-4 Part 14.
  • Integration with ArcGIS. Originally introduced in ENVI 5.0, additional functionality has been added for ENVI to seamlessly interact with ArcGIS, including the ability to integrate analysis tools and image output layers in a concurrent session of ArcMap. For those working in both software domains, this helps simplify your geospatial workflows and more closely integrate your raster and vector analyses.

Other noteworthy additions in this ENVI release include:

  • New data types. ENVI 5.2 now provides support to read and display imagery from AlSat-2A, Deimos-1, Gaofen-1, Proba-V S10, Proba-V S1, SkySat-1, WorldView-3, Ziyuan-1-02C and Ziyuan-3A, as well as data formats GRIB-1, GRIB-2, Multi-page TIFF and NetCDF-4.
  • NNDiffuse Pan Sharpening. A new pan sharpening tool based on nearest neighbor diffusion has been added, which is multi-threaded for high-performance image processing.
  • Scatter Plot Tool. The previous scatter plot tool has been updated and modernized, allowing users to dynamically switch bands, calculate spectral statistics, interact with ROIs, and generate density slices of the displayed spectral data.
  • Raster Color Slice. This useful tool has also been updated, particularly from a performance perspective, providing dynamic updates in the image display according to parameter changes made in the tool.

For those interested in implementing ENVI in the cloud, the ENVI 5.2 release also marks the release of ENVI Services Engine 5.2 , which is an enterprise version of ENVI that facilitates on-demand, scalable, web-based image processing applications. As an example, HySpeed Computing is currently developing a prototype implementation of ESE for processing hyperspectral imagery from the HICO sensor on the International Space Station. The HICO Image Processing System will soon be publically available for testing and evaluation by the community. A link to access the system will be provided on our website once it is released.

HICO IPS

To learn about the above features, and many more not listed here, see the video from Exelis VIS and/or read the latest release notes on ENVI 5.2.

We’re excited to put the new tools to work. How about you?

Science and Innovation on the International Space Station – 2014 ISS R&D Conference

ISS R&D 2014 logoDiscoveries, Applications and Opportunities” was the theme of the 3rd annual International Space Station Research and Development (ISS R&D) conference, held in Chicago, IL from 17-19 June 2014.

From life sciences and biotechnology to physical sciences and Earth observation, the breadth of topics discussed at this conference was inspiring. The ISS represents a truly remarkable orbiting platform for performing unique scientific research, promoting education opportunities, and developing applications and products that benefit life here on Earth.

Additionally, with the recent focus on commercialization of space, entrepreneurs and innovators now have greater access than ever before to utilize the unique capabilities the ISS has to offer. In 2005, the U.S. portion of the ISS was designated a national laboratory, which included a specific directive to expand its utilization amongst both government and private entities alike. To help accomplish this objective, in 2011, NASA selected the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to manage and maximize use of the ISS U.S. National Laboratory.

“By carefully selecting research and funding projects, by connecting investors looking for opportunity to scientists with great ideas, and by making access to the station faster and easier, CASIS will drive scientific inquiry toward developing groundbreaking new technologies and products that will tangibly affect our lives.” (www.iss-casis.org)

Example case studies of entrepreneurship on the ISS presented at the conference included, among others: D-Orbit, a company focused on reducing the proliferation of space debris; Benevolent Technologies, a healthcare company developing custom fit prosthetics using remold-able material; Kentucky Space, a non-profit consortium supporting medical and other research projects in microgravity; and Zero Gravity Solutions, a company that has developed a micronutrient delivery system allowing plants to absorb specific minerals and nutrients.

Also presented at the conference were various sensor systems and instrumentation capabilities utilizing the ISS as a platform for Earth observation. For example, representatives from NanoRacks, PlanetLabs, Urthecast and Teledyne Brown Engineering participating in a panel discussion on why their companies selected the ISS and what their vision is for the future of remote sensing from the ISS. Other conference sessions on Earth observation included:

  • a smartphone app from the Environmental Protection Agency for monitoring water quality;
  • a web-enabled image processing system developed by HySpeed Computing;
  • sensor characteristics, data availability and image applications using ISERV Pathfinder, ISS-IMAP, ISS Agricultural Camera and RapidScat; and
  • participation of ISS in image collection for disaster response.

As another focus, beyond today’s current ISS capabilities, and even beyond the limits of Earth itself, the conference also included a plenary session devoted to how the ISS is being used for technology and human health research as a pathway to Mars exploration. And another plenary session, which included representatives from Orbital Sciences Corporation, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Boeing, and Blue Origin, provided an overview of “getting there and back” – highlighting the latest developments in commercial vehicles for human spaceflight.

There is truly an incredible amount of science being conducted more than 300 km above our heads. The above are but a few of the many exceptional presentations, which also included talks by Nobel Laureate Samuel Ting and NASA Astronauts Greg Johnson, Nicole Stott and John Grunsfeld.

To attend or participate in next year’s conference, which will take place 7-9 July 2015 in Boston, MA, just visit www.astronautical.org. The call for papers will be released in September 2014. See you there!

A Look at What’s New in ENVI 5.1

ENVI 5.1(16-Dec-2013) Today Exelis Visual Information Solutions released ENVI 5.1, the latest version of their popular geospatial analysis software.

We’ve already downloaded and installed our copy, so read below if you want to be one of the first to learn about the new features. Or better yet, if you or your organization are current with the ENVI maintenance program, you too can download the new version and start using it yourself today.

Below are a few highlights of the new features in ENVI 5.1:

  • Region of Interest (ROI) Tool. Previously only accessible in ENVI Classic, users can now define and manage ROIs in the new interface. This includes the ability to manually draw ROIs, generate ROIs from band thresholds, grow existing ROIs, and create multi-part ROIs. Additionally, ROIs are now stored as georeferenced features, which means they can be easily ported between images.
  • Seamless Mosaic Workflow. The Georeferenced Mosaicking tool has been replaced with the new Seamless Mosaic Workflow. This tool allows user to create high quality seamless mosaics by combing multiple georeferenced scenes. Included is the ability to create and edit seamlines, perform edge feathering and color correction, and export finished mosaics to ENVI or TIFF formats.  Also included are tutorials and tutorial data to learn the simple and advanced features of this workflow.
  • Spectral Data. Both the Spectral Profile and Spectral Library viewers include improvements for visualizing and analyzing spectral data. The software also includes updated versions of four key spectral libraries: ASTER Spectral Library Version 2, U.S. Geological Survey Digital Spectral Library 06, Johns Hopkins University Spectral Library, and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Spectral Library.
  • Additional Data Types. ENVI 5.1 can now open generic HDF5 files, which includes data distributed from sensors like NPP VIIRS, SSOT, ResourceSat-2, and HICO. Additional data types and file formats also now supported include ECRG, GeoEye-1 in DigitalGlobe format, Goktuk-2, KOMPSAT-3, NigeriaSat-1 and -2, RASAT, and others.
  • Added Landsat 8 Support. Various improvements have been included for the handling of Landsat 8 data, such as automatically reading the thermal infrared coefficients from the associated metadata, including the Quality and Cirrus Cloud bands in the Data and Layer Managers, correcting reflectance gains and offsets for solar elevation, and updating FLAASH to process Landsat 8 imagery.

These and other welcome improvements continue to expand the capabilities of ENVI, and we’re excited to start working with the new features.

For more on ENVI: http://www.exelisvis.com/

Conservation Technology – Mapping our environment using the Carnegie Airborne Observatory

Remote sensing was recently on stage at TEDGlobal 2013, where Greg Asner highlighted how advanced technology can be leveraged for improved conservation of our natural environment.

Asner, a scientist in the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science, believes that “technology is absolutely critical to managing our planet, but even more important is the understanding and wisdom to apply it.”

In his TED talk, Asner illustrates how data acquired from hyperspectral and lidar instruments on the Carnegie Airborne Observatory can be used to generate kaleidoscopic 3D maps of natural ecosystems in unprecedented detail. These maps, which define data layers such as the biodiversity landscape and carbon geography, provide crucial knowledge that is necessary to make more informed conservations decisions.

Greg Asner: Ecology from the air (13:50)

For more information on the Carnegie Airborne Observatory: http://cao.stanford.edu/

One Rocket & 29 Satellites – A new launch record

Minotaur I launch 11.19.2013

ORS-3 Minotaur I launch 11.19.2013 (image: NASA/Chris Perry)

On Nov. 19, in a specular nighttime launch, a U.S. Air Force Minotaur I rocket was launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and into the history books. With 29 satellites onboard, this mission set a new record for total number of satellites launched on a single rocket.

Referred to as the U.S. Air Force’s Operationally Responsive Space Office ORS-3 mission, this launch not only sets a record, but more importantly, is also enabling significant amounts of space and satellite related research to be conducted using the 29 satellites. Appropriately, the Air Force thus also refers to this launch as an enabler mission.

The primary payload onboard the Minotaur I rocket was the U.S. Air Force’s STPSat-3 (Space Test Program Satellite-3), which will support a variety of research experiments related to satellite operations and measuring the space environment. This includes, among others, experiments to characterize the Earth’s ionosphere and thermosphere, measure plasma densities and energies, and monitor total solar incident irradiance, as well as a specialized module to assist with satellite de-orbiting at the conclusion of its operating lifetime.

In addition to the STPSat-3 satellite, the ORS-3 mission included 28 CubeSats contributed by numerous organizations, including NASA, universities, and even a high school. Here’s a list of a few of the different CubeSats launched in this record-breaking mission.

  • TJ3Sat: (Thomas Jefferson High School) This is the first ever satellite designed and built by high school students. Its mission is to engage students in space science and provide educational resources for other K-12 institutions to build their own satellites. The satellite itself is designed to allow users to upload approved text messages, convert the texts to voice signals, and then relay these audio messages back to Earth over an amateur radio frequency.
  • KySAT-2: (Kentucky Space Consortium) In a show of determination after the rocket carrying KySat-1 failed to achieve orbit back in 2011, students at the University of Kentucky and Morehead University persevered to design and build KySat-2. This satellite includes a digital camera, temperature sensor, and stellar gyroscope, as well as communication systems to receive commands and transmit data and photos to the ground station.
  • Firefly: (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) This satellite will be used to investigate links between lightning and terrestrial gamma ray flashes, exploring what initiates lightning and what effects it has on the atmosphere.
  • COPPER: (St. Louis University) Testing a commercial off-the-shelf infrared imager, this satellite is examining the instrument’s suitability for Earth observation and space situational awareness.
  • DragonSat-1: (Drexel University and U.S. Naval Academy) This satellite is being used to acquire images of the northern and southern lights and also demonstrate deployment of a gravity gradient boom for passive attitude stabilization.
  • PhoneSat 2.4: (NASA Ames Research Center) This is a follow-on to NASA’s previous PhoneSat mission, which launched three CubeSats earlier in 2013, and is being used to further demonstrate the cost-effectiveness and utility of using low-cost smartphones for satellite operation.

With the surge in popularity of CubeSats, and their relative ease of deployment, it’s an exciting time to be involved in space research and operations. A new era of space science has arrived, and era in which satellite access is more available to more people than ever before.

So get out there and see how you can participate. Maybe you too can soon launch your own satellite.

For a complete list of satellites launched during the ORS-3 mission, refer to these related articles posted by Space.com and NASASpaceflight.com.

The “White Stork” Makes a CubeSat Delivery – ISS receives four new micro-satellites

ISS HTV-4

HTV-4 being docked with the ISS using Canadarm2 (courtesy: NASA)

Earlier this month on August 3, 2013 the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle-4 (HTV-4) was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan. The HTV, nicknamed “Kounotori” (White Stork), is an unpiloted spacecraft used to resupply the International Space Station.

In addition to supplies and other research cargo, the recent HTV-4 mission included four new CubeSats:

  • Pico Dragon. This is a 1U CubeSat developed by the Vietnam National Satellite Center. Its mission is to acquire images of the Earth, collect space environment data, and test satellite communication systems.
  • Ardusat-1 and Ardusat-X. These are 1U CubeSats created by NanoSatisfi, with development partially funded through a crowdfunding campaign on KickStarter. The ArduSat satellites provide open-source Arduino platforms for users to control onboard instruments and perform their own space-based experiments.
  • TechEdSat-3. This is a 3U CubeSat collaboratively built by San Jose State University and the University of Idaho with guidance from NASA Ames Research Center. This satellite is being used to test exo-brake technology for passive de-orbiting of satellites and other payloads.

CubeSats offer a low-cost option for deploying and testing new space technologies and for encouraging research in space science. Given their small size – a 1U CubeSat is a 10cm cube – the satellites can be readily deployed as opportunistic payloads on larger missions. They can also be easily designed to burn up upon re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere, thus not contributing to the growing problem of space junk.

Using a procedure first tested last year, the CubeSats delivered by HTV-4 are first uploaded inside the ISS and later released from the Japanese Experiment Module via an airlock and robotic arm using the Small Satellite Orbital Deployer. This allows the CubeSats to be deployed directly from the ISS instead of using traditional launch vehicles, i.e., rockets.

As the deployment of micro-satellites becomes more and more cost-efficient and versatile, it’s no wonder we’re seeing an increasing prevalence of CubeSats. So think small and dream big.

Rockets in the Rainforest – ESA deploys three new satellites from its spaceport in French Guiana

ESA Proba-V

Proba-V (artist rendition; courtesy ESA)

Earlier this week, on a rainy night at the European Spaceport located along the tropical coast of French Guiana, the Vega launch vehicle successfully rocketed into space and completed its mission of deploying three new satellites into orbit.

This was just the second deployment of Vega, representing a momentous occasion for both the European Space Agency and Arianespace – the company operating the launch – and marking another significant step forward in the commercial transition of launch operations.

Also celebrating the Vega launch were the teams behind the three satellites deployed during the mission. These include:

  • Proba-V. From the European Space Agency, Proba-V was the primary payload of the Vega mission. The “V” stands for vegetation, and the satellite is designed as a follow-on mission to the vegetation imagers included on the French Spot-4 and -5 satellites. Proba-V contains a moderate-resolution four-band multispectral instrument capable of mapping complete global vegetation cover once every two days.
  • VNREDSat-1A. Representing the first Earth observing satellite from Vietnam, this is a high-resolution five-band imager (four multispectral bands and one panchromatic) designed for monitoring and managing natural resources, assessing the impacts of climate change, and improving response to natural disasters.
  • ESTCube-1. This represents the very first satellite from Estonia. ESTCube-1 is a CubeSat built primarily by students at the University of Tartu. Its main scientific objective is to deploy and test an electric solar wind sail, a novel method of space propulsion.

You may ask why the European Spaceport, aka Guiana Space Center, is located in the equatorial rainforest of South America, which upon first consideration may seem like an unlikely location. The answer is that the Spaceport’s location has some significant advantages. First and foremost, its location near the equator makes the Spaceport ideal for launching satellites into geosynchronous orbit, and given the higher rotational speed of the planet near the equator, this also lends efficiency to the launch process (i.e., saving fuel and money). Second, the region is relatively unpopulated and not at risk from earthquakes or hurricanes, thereby significantly reducing risk from any unforeseen disasters. The European Spaceport also has a rich launch history extending back nearly 50 years. Originally established by France in 1964, the Spaceport has been used by the European Space Agency since its founding in 1975.

With all this talk lately about new satellites, it may also seem like space is starting to get crowded. It is! The issue isn’t necessarily all the new satellites being launched, but rather all the derelict space debris that remains in orbit. To address this issue, there has been significant international discussion lately to develop debris removal plans. While such an endeavor is certainly going to be costly and logistically difficult, space cleanup is a necessary step towards ensuring the integrity of current and future satellites.

But for now let’s celebrate the success of these latest satellite missions and make sure the data is put to good use.

The National Strategy for Earth Observation – Data management and societal benefits

White House OSTP

Office of Science and Technology Policy

Earlier this month the U.S. National Science and Technology Council released its report on the National Strategy for Civil Earth Observations. This is the first step towards building a National roadmap for the more efficient utilization and management of U.S. Earth observing resources.

Current U.S. capabilities in Earth observation, as summarized in the report, are distributed across more than 100 different programs, including those at both Federal agencies and various non-Federal organizations (e.g., state and local governments, academic institutions, and commercial companies). This extends far beyond just the well-known satellite programs operated by NASA and NOAA, encompassing a variety of other satellite and airborne missions being conducted around the country, as well as a host of other land- and water-based observing systems. From a National perspective this represents not just a complex array of programs and organizations to manage, but also an increasingly voluminous collection of data products and information to store and make available for use.

With an objective towards improving the overall management and utilization of the various Earth observing resources, the National Strategy outlines two primary organizational elements. The first element addresses a “policy framework” for prioritizing investments in observing systems that support specified “societal benefit areas,” and the second element speaks to the need for improved methods and policies for data management and information dissemination.

The National Strategy also lays the foundation for ultimately developing a National Plan for Civil Earth Observations, with initial publication targeted for fiscal year 2014 and subsequent versions to be repeated every three years thereafter. As indicated by its title, the National Plan will provide the practical details and fundamental information needed to implement the various Earth observing objectives. Additionally, by periodically revisiting and reassessing technologic capabilities and societal needs, the “approach of routine assessment, improved data management, and coordinated planning is designed to enable stable, continuous, and coordinated Earth-observation capabilities for the benefit of society.”

The overall motivation behind the National Strategy and National Plan is the recognized societal importance of Earth observation. Specifically, “Earth observations provide the indispensable foundation for meeting the Federal Government’s long-term sustainability objectives and advancing U.S. social, environmental, and economic well-being.” With that in mind, the National Strategy specifies twelve key “societal benefit areas”: agriculture and forestry, biodiversity, climate, disasters, ecosystems, energy and mineral resources, human health, ocean and coastal resources and ecosystems, space weather, transportation, water resources, weather, and reference measurements. Also deemed relevant are the various technology developments that span across all focus areas, such as advances in sensor systems, data processing, algorithm development, data discovery tools, and information portals.

The National Strategy additionally presents a comprehensive outline for a unified data management framework, which sets the fundamental “expectations and requirements for Federal agencies involved in the collection, processing, stewardship, and dissemination of Earth-observation data.” The framework addresses needs across the entire data life cycle, beginning with the planning stages of data collection, progressing through data organization and formatting standards, and extending to data accessibility and long-term data stewardship. Also included is the need to provide full and open data access to all interested users, as well as optimize interoperability, thereby facilitating the more efficient exchange of data and information products across the entire community.

With this National Strategy, the U.S. is defining a unified vision for integrating existing resources and directing future investments in Earth observation. We are looking forward to reading the upcoming National Plan, which is targeted for release later this year.

To access a copy of the National Strategy report, visit the Office of Science and Technology Policy: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp

Space is Calling – Can your phone do that?

PhoneSat 1.0

PhoneSat 1.0 (image courtesy NASA)

What coverage areas are included in your mobile phone plan? Does it include the section of space – outer space that is – defined as low Earth orbit? If not, don’t worry, NASA’s PhoneSats have that covered.

This past Sunday, 21 April 2013, NASA successfully launched a trio of low-cost nanosatellites; all built using Google Nexus smartphones. Collectively referred to as the PhoneSat mission, these satellites are a technology demonstration project being used to determine if smartphones can be used to control satellite avionics, i.e., the general communication and navigation requirements for standard satellite operation.

But these aren’t the first smartphone-enabled satellites. You may recall that earlier this year on February 25 the United Kingdom launched STRaND-1, also built using a Google Nexus device, thus taking honors as the first smartphone satellite in orbit.

In addition to the PhoneSat mission, the April 21 launch from NASA’s Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia also marked an important milestone for Orbital Sciences Corporation. With the successful maiden launch of their Antares rocket, and subsequent satellite payload delivery, Orbital Sciences completed a significant step towards ultimately providing cargo supply missions to the International Space Station. As with similar missions already being conducted by SpaceX, this launch represents another important achievement for NASA and the U.S. commercial space industry, and another contribution to the exciting new future of our space economy.

The three PhoneSat satellites, which are part of NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program, were predominantly assembled using off-the-shelf components and all conform to the specifications of 1U CubeSats, measuring just 10x10x10cm. Despite the smartphone capabilities, however, you won’t be getting a call from these satellites anytime soon; the ability to send and receive both calls and messages has been disabled on the phones. Modifications have also been made to incorporate a larger external lithium battery and integrate a powerful radio transmitter. But otherwise the satellites are designed to specifically take advantage of the powerful microprocessors and other miniaturized components inherent to today’s smartphones.

Among various tests on how phone hardware and software operates in a space environment, the PhoneSat mission is using the built-in cameras on all three smartphone satellites to acquire images of the Earth’s surface. The images are then being transmitted at regular intervals via small data packets such that amateur radio operators around the world can receive the individual packets and send them to researchers at NASA Ames Research Center. Using this citizen science approach, the ultimate goal is to assemble a complete mosaic of the Earth using a compilation of just these smartphone images.

With the successful initiation of the PhoneSat and STRaND missions, think of what might be next on the horizon. Think of what apps you might develop that could be implemented on an orbiting smartphone? Just think of the possibilities.

For more information on the PhoneSat program: http://www.phonesat.org