Hosted satellite discussions are all the rage, but the completed International Space Station (ISS) may prove to be among the most successful platforms for hosted payloads due to a combination of regular flights -- with the ability for on-site robotic or human repair and even the potential for returns of payloads.
Last week, NASA announced a remote-controlled Earth-observation camera system called ISERV (International Space Station SERVIR Environmental Research and Visualization System) was sent to the space station aboard Japan's HTV-3 transfer vehicle. Built in a partnership between NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development, ISERV will be directed by researchers on the ground to acquire imagery for disaster analysis and environmental studies.
ISERV was designed and built at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala and will provide satellite data and tools to environmental decision makers in developing countries once it is installed. It combines a modified commercial telescope and custom software. Once installed in a window of the station's Destiny laboratory, it will take images and transmit the data to scientists on the ground.
Unique to the program, a coordination office and student research laboratory will reside at Marshall, while active hubs will be located in Kenya and Nepal as well as an affiliate network in Panama. The technical hubs will coordinate with international and national organizations in their regions regarding research and applications development on climate change, environmental monitoring, disasters, weather and mapping, among other topics.
Teledyne Brown Engineering, also based in Huntsville, plans to put commercial hosted platform on ISS as part of its new space-based digital imaging business. The MUSES (Multi-User System for Earth Sensing) platform will be the first commercial imaging system on the space station and host up to four earth-looking instruments, such as high-resolution digital cameras. MUSES instruments will be changed, upgraded and serviced robotically. The package is scheduled to be delivered to NASA in late 2014 and launched in early 2015.
Turning to hardware R&D, ISS will host a green propulsion system in mid-2013. Innovative Space Propulsion Systems (ISPS) Green Propellant Demonstration will put a deep-throttling 440 N (100-lbf) nitrous oxide-based/fueled engine on the space station. The NOFBX package will remain in orbit for one year and undergo a series of performance tests outside of the station, including steady-state, pulses, throttling and long-term storage and re-start demonstrations.
ISS isn't a solution for all hosting needs. The space station provides a single platform in low Earth orbit (LEO), so users needing multiple satellite orbits or geosynchronous coverage will seek other rides. It's not a vibration-free platform, with astronaut and mechanical experiments both introducing movement. There's also the non-trivial process of getting a payload vetted by NASA for installation on the $100 billion manned facility.
More hosted payloads to ISS makes commercial space vendors alternatively drool and get frustrated. ISS hosted payloads proves and stimulates the market for opportunities such as SpaceX's (News - Alert) free-flying Dragon Lab and Bigelow Aerospace's BA 330 commercial space station.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman