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.”

Satellite Overlays in Google Earth – The CEOS Visualization Environment

Are you planning a remote sensing mission? Do you want to see the coverage of different satellite instruments before acquiring imagery or conducting your fieldwork? If so, then it’s definitely worth exploring the CEOS Visualization Environment (COVE) tool to visualize where and when different instruments are observing your study area.


COVE is “a browser-based system that leverages Google-Earth to display satellite sensor coverage areas and identify coincidence scene locations.” It is a collaborative project developed by the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) Working Group on Calibration and Validation and the NASA CEOS System Engineering Office (SEO). The COVE tool is available online at:

The COVE web portal includes a suite of three main tools for planning remote sensing missions: the core COVE tool, which provides visualizations of instrument coverage; the Rapid Acquisition Tool, which allows users to identify and predict when sensors will cover specified study areas; and the Mission and Instrument Browser, which provides descriptions of the hundreds of different missions and instruments included in the COVE database.

So what can COVE do for you? As example, let’s assume you want to acquire coincident Landsat-8 and WorldView-2 imagery over the reefs of southwestern Puerto Rico later this year. You can use COVE to calculate when and where instrument coverage will overlap, and hence schedule your associated fieldwork and other mission planning accordingly. In this example, as shown here, Landsat-8 and WorldView-2 will overlap southwestern Puerto Rico on Nov-25-2013.


Ground swaths for Landsat-8 (left) and WorldView-2 (right) on Nov-25-2013


Ground swath overlap for Landsat-8 and WorldView-2 on Nov-25-2013 in southwestern Puerto Rico

As you would expect, COVE includes many other options. Among these is the ability to incorporate different overlays, such as average annual and monthly cloud cover and precipitation, as well as simultaneously display up to four globes at a time. Additionally, results can also be saved and exported to STK, KML, and as a 2D global image. Given its usefulness and versatility, COVE has definitely found a permanent home in our mission planning toolbox.


Global ground swath for Landsat-8 on Nov-25-2013

About CEOS: “Established in 1984, the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) coordinates civil space-borne observations of the Earth.  Participating agencies strive to enhance international coordination and data exchange and to optimize societal benefit. Currently, 53 members and associate members made up of space agencies, national, and international organizations participate in CEOS planning and activities.”

For more on CEOS:

Eyes on the Earth – An interactive tool for exploring NASA satellite visualizations

Just the other day we were discussing earth observing missions and a question arose regarding availability of a graphic or video illustrating the current satellite orbits. So we set out to answer that question and quickly discovered NASA’s ‘Eyes on the Earth.’

Have you seen this application? If you’re interested in satellites and remote sensing it’s definitely worth your time to download and explore. Just visit and hit the start button to install the desktop application.

NASA is known for producing stunning visualizations that transform complex science into meaningful informational graphics. Anyone who has attended a NASA presentation or visited their website can attest to the thought and innovation that go into creating these products. The ‘Eyes on the Earth’ application is no exception to this creativity, bringing together an array of exceptional visualizations into a single integrated package.

The opening visualization of ‘Eyes on the Earth’ shows the current real-time position and orbital paths of NASA’s Earth observing satellites. The display is interactive, so you can easily rotate the planet into any desired position. There are also options to increase the speed of the visualization (bottom of screen), switch to full screen (lower right), toggle on/off city names and topography (upper right drop down menu), and adjust between realistic day/night lighting versus full illumination (lower right). The entire visualization can also be viewed in anaglyph 3D, assuming you have a pair of appropriate 3D glasses.

Eyes on the Earth

Want to learn more about a particular mission or specific type of observation? The application allows you to select from a number of pre-defined visualizations that portray different ‘vital signs of the planet’, including global temperature, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sea level, and ozone. The different options can be accessed through buttons at the top of the interface or by selecting an individual satellite from within the central display. Users can then adjust the date range as well as type of data used for generating the display (daily versus three day averaging). With all these options, there’s a wealth of information available at your fingertips.

Eyes on the Earth

As a bonus, the NASA Eyes Visualization also includes ‘Eyes on the Solar System’ and ‘Eyes on Exoplanets’, which are equally intriguing to explore.

So sit back, set the application to full screen, and enjoy the experience.