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Hyperspectral imager launched to ISS

03 Jul 2018

Teledyne-operated, DLR-built kit operates at 235 wavelength channels across the visible and near-infrared spectrum.

A hyperspectral imaging system built by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) has arrived at the International Space Station (ISS), following its launch on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket last week.

Developed by the DLR Institute of Optical Sensor Systems, in cooperation with US-based Teledyne Brown Engineering (TBE), the 235-channel tool will be used for environmental and humanitarian applications in Earth observation.

30m resolution
According to Teledyne, the DLR Earth Sensing Imaging Spectrometer (DESIS) has capability across the 400-1000 nm wavelength range.

“With continuous coverage at an altitude approximately 250 miles above the Earth, the DESIS instrument will broaden our knowledge about agriculture, biodiversity, geology, water ecosystems and detect natural or man-made changes to the Earth’s surface,” says the firm. DESIS is said to have a surface resolution of 30 m from the ISS-orbit altitude.

Following three months of installation and testing activity, DESIS will operate within Teledyne’s "MUSES" (Multi-User System for Earth Sensing) platform on board the ISS. MUSES was developed as part of a cooperative agreement with NASA, for applications including imaging, technology demonstration, and space qualification payloads supporting research, scientific studies and humanitarian efforts.

“MUSES provides a precision-pointing environment on the ISS for earth-viewing instruments and it can accommodate up to four payloads simultaneously,” Teledyne explains. “It also offers the ability to robotically retrieve, upgrade, and service those instruments as well as return them to Earth.”

According to DLR, DESIS will become the first operational equipment on MUSES. The organization stresses that the instrument is designed to provide hyperspectral data to support scientific, humanitarian and commercial goals.

“This data will enable assessment of the situation after environmental disasters, assist farmers in the targeted management of their land, and serve scientists as a basis for the development of novel atmospheric correction algorithms,” suggests the organization.

“Hyperspectral data from DESIS will enable DLR to develop new Earth observation applications, for example for resource exploration or precision farming. Humanitarian aid applications can also be improved with DESIS data," it added.

“DESIS will also enable the further development of hyperspectral applications and technologies. The new research opportunities relate to monitoring the global ecosystem, resource monitoring and exploration, and improving response to humanitarian crises.”

Coastal zones and oil spills
According to a February 2017 presentation by Teledyne and DLR, DESIS will prove particularly useful for monitoring of coastal zones, as well as analysis of land coverage, vegetation health, the impact of droughts, and monitoring forest health.

Another key use could be assessment of potential oil spills, where the hyperspectral data is expected to complement radar imagery by providing additional chemical composition information that should help to reduce the number of false alarms, and to detect oil spills below the ocean surface.

ISS is seen as a particularly useful host for the imaging equipment, partly because its orbit ensures coverage of 90 percent of the populated regions of Earth, alongside all ocean shipping lanes and major ports.

TBE's president Jan Hess said following the Falcon 9 launch: “Our vision was to create partnerships with DLR, NASA, CASIS and others to enable MUSES and the ISS to expand capabilities to view and assess the Earth’s surface. We are ecstatic to get the DESIS in place as MUSES’s first payload, and have the ability to share its data with the world’s science and commercial communities.”

Under the terms of the Teledyne/DLR agreement, Teledyne retains rights for commercial applications of the platform, while DLR holds rights for scientific use. The first DESIS images are expected to appear from September onwards.

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