Most people think of the International Space Station (ISS) as a place to learn about space, but in recent years the modules of humanity’s only outpost in space are also becoming halls of commerce, where companies experiment with materials in the space environment or 3D print nanosatellite parts.
Teledyne Brown Engineering’s Multi-User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES) has introduced a new level of precision pointing and tracking for Earth-imaging devices on the ISS. Through a cooperative agreement, the company built the facility and now rents space aboard it. A less obvious commercial use taking shape is Earth imaging. While low-Earth orbit is increasingly populated with downward-looking satellites, the space station can present a more affordable option for anyone looking to fly or at least try out science-grade imaging instruments. Since the station is already a satellite in orbit, a client only needs to send up the instrument itself. Until recently, though, there was nowhere to put such an imager, and even if there were, there would have been no way to point it precisely: the space station only calculates its orientation to within about a degree of accuracy, but for a camera looking down on Earth from that 250-mile-high perch, turning just a hundredth of a degree means a difference of almost 200 feet on the ground.
“Before, you couldn’t track a spot on the ground or hold on a spot as you passed over it,” says Mike Read, who manages the ISS’s National Laboratory from Johnson Space Center.
To overcome this deficiency, Read’s office partnered with Huntsville, Alabama-based Teledyne Brown Engineering to outfit the station with its new Multi-User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES), which flew to the ISS in June of 2017 and went into full operation that September.
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