Cygnus en route to International Space Station. Credit: Thales Alenia Space

Cygnus en route to International Space Station.
Credit: Thales Alenia Space

Last night’s successful launch of the Cygnus supply ship to the International Space Station is loaded with equipment – including an experiment to observe and record incoming meteors and reentering objects from Earth orbit.

Called the Meteor experiment, once installed onboard the ISS the plan is for the gear to operate for 2 years, balanced against other science priorities. Meteor will be installed in the station’s Window Observational Research Facility or WORF for short.

This is the second run of Meteor to reach the ISS. The original Meteor camera was a payload of the Cygnus CRS Orb-3 mission of Orbital ATK which suffered a catastrophic anomaly moments after launch on October 26, 2014.

Photo of Meteor installed in the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF) Simulator at NASA's Johnson Space Center. This is how it should look after installation on the International Space Station. Credit: Southwest Research Institute/Chiba Institute of Technology

Photo of Meteor installed in the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF) Simulator at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. This is how it should look after installation on the International Space Station.
Credit: Southwest Research Institute/Chiba Institute of Technology

Secondary targets

Project Meteor’s goal is to make the first spaceborne observations of the chemical composition of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere. The equipment is slated to make observations during the night portion of each ISS orbit, and plans to operate during periods of predicated and well known meteor showers.

Meteor observation system — the Chitech Observatory of METor on iSS (COMET SS). Credit: COMET SS Consortium

Meteor observation system — the Chitech Observatory of METor on iSS (COMET SS).
Credit: COMET SS Consortium

The camera is scheduled to record all 12 known major showers. Secondary targets include minor meteor showers and periods with little or no identified regular activity. Observation of de-orbiting spacecraft and other targets also will be made.

Video and images

Viewing from the ISS is not affected by weather or interference from Earth’s atmosphere. The Meteor project intends to provide continuous monitoring of meteor interaction with the Earth’s atmosphere without limitations of the ozone absorption.

Once up and operating, the Meteor investigation is designed to take high-resolution video and images of the atmosphere and uses a software program to search for bright spots, which can later be analyzed on the ground.

Photo of the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF) rack in the Destiny Module of the ISS. Credit: NASA

Photo of the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF) rack in the Destiny Module of the ISS.
Credit: NASA

On its own

The Meteor system will operate mostly on its own, explains Michael Fortenberry, Principal Investigator for Meteor at Southwest Research Institute. He explains that the ISS crew will only need to adjust the lens focus and change out hard drives that store high-resolution video collected by the camera.

A software program will identify and separate video clips that likely include meteors, and those can be further analyzed later on the ground. Scientists can use these images to glean information such as the size of a particle of meteoric dust based on its flight path and light curve.

Out the window

Here is what a meteor shower looks like from orbit. During the peak of the 1997 Leonid Meteor Shower, the DoD's Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX) satellite imaged from above 29 meteors over a 48 minute period entering the Earth's atmosphere. Credit: P. Jenniskens (NASA/Ames, SETI Inst.) et al., APL, UVISI, MSX, BMDO

Here is what a meteor shower looks like from orbit. During the peak of the 1997 Leonid Meteor Shower, the DoD’s Midcourse Space
Experiment (MSX) satellite imaged from above 29 meteors over a 48 minute period entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
Credit: P. Jenniskens (NASA/Ames, SETI Inst.) et al., APL, UVISI, MSX, BMDO

The ISS Window Observational Research Facility (WORF) provides a stable platform for hand-held photography and other research activities. It is the highest optical-quality window ever installed on a human space vehicle. The Window enables the use of high-resolution cameras from inside the station rather than outside, where instruments are subject to the vacuum and extreme temperatures of space.

 

 

 

 

Partners in the Meteor investigation include the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), and Japan’s Chiba Institute of Technology/Planetary Exploration Research Center (CIT/PERC. The Meteor camera has been developed by CIT/PERC. NASA and the NL (National Laboratory) are sponsoring the Meteor project.

 

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