At a Glance
- The Multiple User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES) is a commercially operated hosted-payload platform that provides a test bed for technology demonstrations and readiness maturation in low Earth orbit (LEO).
- MUSES pointing capability supports the hosting of Earth-viewing instruments, such as high-resolution digital cameras and hyperspectral imagers, improving response times for natural disasters, weather and climate modeling, and environmental monitoring to track ocean health and water quality for harmful contaminants such as oil spills or agricultural run-off.
- To learn more about how the ISS National Lab is working with partners in the areas of Earth science and remote sensing, visit our Areas of Research Page.
Envision being able to validate that a new imager works before risking it on a satellite launch—and, if it doesn’t, being able to easily return the sensor to Earth for testing and repair. Picture being able to have your payload in orbit in under 12 months at half the price of traditional small satellites.
With MUSES, we can take a new imager or technology and verify its performance. The development of new space-based technology can be accelerated with greatly reduced risk.
Jack Ickes, VP, geospatial solutions, Teledyne Brown Engineering
The ability for payloads to orbit the Earth and return is now possible after the June launch of the Multiple User System for Earth Sensing (MUSES) platform to the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory. Leveraging the infrastructure of the ISS makes this new capability available at significantly lower cost than traditional satellite platforms.
Orbiting approximately 250 miles above the Earth, the ISS offers researchers a unique vantage point for Earth observation, disaster response, maritime domain awareness, food security, atmospheric investigations, and other applications. In addition, because the station’s orbit is non-sun-synchronous, it allows for both day and nighttime imaging of the same location.
Driving Investment in LEO Economy
As the first commercially operated remote sensing hosted-payload platform on the ISS, MUSES is helping drive investment in a new low Earth orbit economy and attract commercial players to space, which is one goal of the ISS National Lab in its management of the ISS National Lab.
“From our perspective, we see MUSES supporting traditional science applications for weather and climate as well as applications for commerce,” says David Zuniga, commercial innovation manager at the ISS National Lab.
Built and operated by Teledyne Brown Engineering through a cooperative agreement with NASA, MUSES offers companies, academic institutions, and government agencies a platform and test bed for experiments and technology demonstration, lowering the risk traditionally associated with sending new sensors or payloads into space via satellite launch. It joins a growing list of commercial platforms on the ISS, including NanoRacks’ cubesat deployer (NRCSD) platform and Alpha Space’s Materials International Space Station Experiment Flight Facility (MISSE FF) materials testing and data collection platform.
“The National Lab does an excellent job of enabling and fostering science for the ISS. Our role with MUSES is to provide commercial infrastructure to support the ISS National Lab’s mission,” says Jack Ickes, vice president of geospatial solutions at Teledyne Brown Engineering. “Teledyne’s payload integration services, Payload Operations Center, and cloud-based data management system cost-effectively supports the entire lifecycle of experiments onboard the ISS. Our customers focus on the science, Teledyne takes care of everything else.”
Getting to Space for Half the Cost of Current Smallsat Launches
“Today, for payloads between 100 and 200 pounds, small satellite launches cost between $6 million and $10 million. A ride to the ISS-based MUSES is half that amount,” Ickes says. “For low Earth orbit missions, MUSES is a cost-effective alternative to placing a payload or sensor on a smallsat.”
Ickes says there is always risk that new technology launched into space might not work on the first try. The development of space-based sensors is difficult, and many past satellites have failed or have limited operational performance. Repairs are not possible, and the investments made could be a total loss.
“With MUSES, we can take a new imager or technology and verify its performance; or, if it doesn’t work, return it to Earth and repair or modify it before sending it back up,” says Ickes. “The development of new space-based technology can be accelerated with greatly reduced risk.”
The MUSES platform features four sensor slots, which can dynamically point to any area on Earth at a 50-degree range of motion while in flight without having to wait for the ISS to fly directly over a specific location. The MUSES platform will switch out sensors using the ISS robotic arm, giving Teledyne Brown Engineering the ability to support low Earth orbit experiments of various time lengths, customized to the specific mission.
MUSES is ideal for Earth observation initiatives, currently estimated to be a $43 billion market, with capabilities from assessing weather patterns and climate to driving business intelligence. Instruments on the platform will be able to detect flooding and coastal erosion as well as water pollution, red tide, and landslides. MUSES also will be a critical tool in disaster response.
Fusing Data: The Ultimate Power of MUSES
What excites Zuniga the most is the potential for MUSES to help integrate or fuse different data sets together in a tangible way that helps people on the ground, such as combining weather and climate information to better plan for or prevent flooding, leading to fewer fatalities, less severe property damage, and less costly insurance claims.
“In the end it’s all about data—how to use data analytics to process all this information and make data packages or application protocol interfaces for people like you and me to use,” Zuniga says.