Space Station Gets a New Telescope

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield with the new ISERV (International Space Station SERVIR Environmental Research and Visualization System), a modified Celestron telescope for Earth observation. Credit: NASA/CSA

Astronauts on the International Space Station today are installing a new modified Celestron telescope. This won’t be used to observe the stars, but instead look back to Earth to acquire imagery of specific areas of the world for disaster analysis and environmental studies. Called ISERV (International Space Station SERVIR Environmental Research and Visualization System), it is a new remote-controlled imaging system.

“Essentially, it will be pointed out of one of the windows of the Space Station, and used for Earth imaging,” Andrea Tabor, social media coordinator for Celestron told Universe Today, “especially for natural disasters and to help countries that may not have their own Earth-observing satellites to help assess damage and assist with evacuations.”

ISERV will be installed in the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF) in the station’s Destiny laboratory.

The Celestron CPC 925, is a 9.25″ diffraction limited Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and off-the-shelf sells for $2,500 including the mount, (just the 9.25 inch optical tube sells for $1,479). It was modified at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

“They used the fork mount that comes with it,” Tabor said, “but they just removed the tripod and replaced it with a specialized mount to anchor and stabilize it on the ISS.”

Because it is pointed out of a window and because the ISS is moving so fast, it would be difficult to align it with the sky and do any celestial imaging, Tabor said.

ISERV is the first of what is hoped to be a series of space station Earth-observing instruments, each to feature progressively more capable sensors to help scientists gain operational experience and expertise, as well as help design better systems in the future. Scientists envision that future sensors could be mounted on the exterior of the station for a clearer, wider view of Earth.

It arrived on the ISS in July of 2012 on board the Japanese HTV-3.

“It’s been up there sitting in a box, so today was unboxing and assembly day,” Tabor said. She added that they hope to post some of the first images from the telescope on their Twitter and Facebook pages.

The telescope will normally be operated by remote-controlled from Earth and so the astronauts won’t likely be working with it directly except for assessing its operation or troubleshooting any problems.

“Images captured from ISERV on the ISS could provide valuable information back here on Earth,” said Dan Irwin, SERVIR program director at Marshall. “We hope it will provide new data and information from space related to natural disasters, environmental crises and the increased effects of climate variability on human populations.”

Image via @Cmdr_Hadfield on Twitter