Soon it will be possible to zoom in on Earth from the ISS to determine the best sites to grow food crops or to quickly find areas hardest hit by natural disasters, as the first commercially operated Earth-sensing platform on the ISS is now fully operational. The Multiple User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES) platform, which launched to the ISS in June, enables a host of Earth-observation applications, including disaster response, maritime domain awareness, food security and agricultural production monitoring, and atmospheric investigations.
Built and operated by Teledyne Brown Engineering through a cooperative agreement with NASA, the MUSES platform features four payload slots with a 50-degree range of motion that can dynamically point to any area on Earth. This pointing capability means users do not have to wait for the ISS to fly over a specific location, which significantly improves revisit times. MUSES accommodates up to four instruments simultaneously, and each instrument can be installed and removed by ISS robotic arm operators on the ground.
MUSES will offer companies a commercial platform for Earth observation and an engineering testbed for experiments and technology demonstrations, lowering the risk traditionally associated with sending new sensors or payloads into space via satellite launch. For low Earth orbit missions, MUSES is also a cost-effective alternative to small satellites, said Jack Ickes, vice president of Geospatial Solutions at Teledyne Brown Engineering.
“Being able to return your payload to either analyze what went wrong or to upgrade and improve capabilities over time preserves your investment,” Ickes said. “We’re also working with NASA to streamline the required payload verification process, with the goal to get from contract to orbit in less than nine months.”
MUSES is ideal for a multitude of Earth observation applications, from assessing weather patterns and climate change to driving better decision-making for companies and governments. For example, shipping companies could collect real-time data to predict when to send their fleets out to sea during a hurricane to minimize risk to crews and vessels. City planners could integrate geospatial information with weather patterns to predict where tornadoes may increase in frequency or strength to inform building construction codes to maximize safety. Platform instruments could detect and monitor flooding and coastal erosion, water pollution, red tides, and landslides. MUSES also will be a critical tool in disaster response.
MUSES reached full operating capacity in September, and its first instrument will be deployed during the first quarter of 2018, with additional payloads to follow. MUSES’ first instrument, the DESIS-30 hyperspectral imager from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) will monitor water quality and ecosystems in coastal zones and oceans.
Hyperspectral images enabled through MUSES will allow DLR to gather vegetation and water classification data from nearly the whole planet, instead of relying on ground-based studies that can only monitor small areas. Such analyses provide a wealth of actionable information, for example, allowing farmers to determine whether crops are ready for harvest or whether they are in decline. Hyperspectral data from the DESIS-30 instrument will be sold commercially through Teledyne’s Amazon cloud-based data catalog.
Teledyne sees MUSES as an innovative platform that opens a new portal for digital imaging solutions. The ability of MUSES to collect and integrate Earth observation data from multiple sources enables better intelligence from space and more informed decision making on Earth.