Situated in low Earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 240 miles, the International Space Station (ISS) provides a valuable vantage point for Earth observation. The orbital path of the ISS gives it a unique point of view, traveling over the regions of Earth that contain more than 90% of our planet’s population and almost completely covering tropical and subtropical regions. The vantage point of the ISS also enables observations that would be difficult to make from the ground due to the atmosphere or cloud cover.
An investigation from the European Space Agency is taking advantage of the unique view from the ISS to study severe thunderstorms in the upper atmosphere that are difficult to observe from Earth. The Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM)—a collection of optical cameras, photometers, and an X-ray and gamma-ray detector mounted to the outside of the space station—will observe thunderstorm-generated electrical discharges in the upper atmosphere over a period of at least two years. Data from ASIM could shed light on these mysterious storms and the role they play in Earth’s atmosphere and climate.
Check out some of the other ways the ISS National Lab is supporting use of the ISS National Lab as a powerful Earth observation platform: