Washington, March 12 : The European Space Agency (ESA) says it has safely received the first pictures of Earth clicked by an automated Earth Viewing Camera (EVC) installed in its science laboratory in space, the European Columbus.
The announcement comes after several weeks of troubleshooting by the EVC team in the Netherlands. The initial image, showing a dimly illuminated cloud-covered region was successfully downloaded on March 6.
A second picture, the first to be produced on command from the ground, was taken soon after dawn on March 7. It shows a scattering of white and pink clouds close to the Aleutian Islands in the north Pacific.
"It was really exciting to see the first image arriving from space after the long period of developing the camera and testing it in orbit. This success would not have been possible without the major contribution of Carlo Gavazzi Space and the hard work of the integration and operations teams at the European Space Technology and Research Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands," said Massimo Sabbatini, ESA Principal Investigator for the EVC. "We are just starting to experiment with the various camera parameters to adjust for the vast range of lighting conditions we encounter. That's why the second picture is slightly blurred. The ISS is travelling at about 7 km per second, so we have to adjust the exposure time to compensate for this rapid motion. At that speed the camera moves over hundreds of metres on the ground in a matter of milliseconds," Sabbatini added.
The camera is intended to be a valuable resource for public outreach and education.
Sabbatini says, "We hope to encourage teachers and students to use the EVC as a tool for studying all aspects of Earth observation from space - imaging, telemetry, telecommunications links and orbit predictions. We are also hoping to receive requests for images of particular regions over which the ISS is passing."
The EVC, which weighs 7.8 kg, points continuously at a fixed angle toward the Earth. Installed with a commercial sensor provided by Kodak and a detector, the camera is capable of capturing colour images of the Earth's surface. It can capture an area of 200 x 200 km.
The images are received in Europe by the Columbus Control Centre at Oberpfaffenhofen in Germany, and then forwarded to the ESA User Support Operation Centre in the Erasmus Centre at ESTEC.
In future, the EVC image acquisition process and exploitation will be coordinated from the EVC User Home Base, also located at the Erasmus Centre.