As of this month, some of those questions may be answered with the initiation of NASA’s HDEV. The project’s goal is to test how cameras function in space, including radiation exposure.
As a result, live-streaming views of the Earth are being beamed back to the planet and are readily available on Ustream. Not only will the HDEV project provide keen insight about video production in space, but will also provide some fantastic views of our planet.
Marketing it as “ISS Science for Everyone”, the HDEV project has placed four HD cameras on the outside of the International Space Station. Even though the result is high quality live-streams of our planet from space, the main goal is to study how the space environment effects video productions.
“Analysis of the effect of space on the video quality, over the time HDEV is operational, may help engineers decide which cameras are the best types to use on future missions.”
If the project is successful, we might be able to expect other such videos from other NASA missions.
Though the concept sounds simple, there was some serious engineering that went into attaching the commercial grade cameras to the ISS.
The cameras have been encased in a temperature controlled enclosure that allows them to be exposed to the radiation that is commonplace in outer space. Additionally, the enclosures are pressure controlled and contain dry ice at atmospheric pressures.
Also to maximize the viewing area recorded, the cameras were positioned as follows:
–> One camera pointing in front of the station
–> Two cameras pointing backward away from the station
–> The last camera points directly underneath the space station
The cameras are not associated with or interact with the inside of the International Space Station at all. The cameras transmit their view directly to the ground station. Any recordings made of the images captured are done entirely on Earth. Nothing is recorded from the space station in regards to HDEV.
Not only can the cameras not record, but they also cannot be moved via a controller. All four cameras are fixed in their positions and can only capture images that appear in their field of view as the ISS orbits the planet.
How High School Students Helped
One of the more interesting aspects of the project is the fact that some of the key components were designed and built by high school students. A Space.com write up describes the effort as, “Some of the cameras’ components were designed by high school students as part of the High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware.”
Not only did the students participate in the project’s design, but they are also actively participating in its implementation.
According to NASA, the teams of students are the ones who will operate the active cameras during the life of the project. The active role of the high school students are part of the HUNCH program.
NASA views HUNCH as a win-win solution for both the space agency and the students involved. Basically, the idea is that the high school students can provide NASA with “cost-effective” ( i.e. cheap) hardware while gaining hands-on experience with fabricating such components.
NASA provides the tools and materials needed to fabricate such components while the schools make sure the students are learning from the experience and are not being simply exploited as cheap labor.
NASA has finally found an economical way of providing live streams from outer space. If HDEV is successful, such streams may become commonplace on a number of other missions in the future.