ESA NightPod (ESA NightPod) - 09.02.15

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
NightPod is a tracking device technology being tested on the International Space Station (ISS) for its ability to assist cameras in taking improved photographs of the Earth, especially at night (in low light conditions). The device compensates for ISS movement allowing a camera fitted to the device a longer exposure time on fixed targets on Earth. This is not only helpful for taking images of Earth for education, promotion or research activities, it also holds the potential for use on orbital craft on future missions around other planets and planetary bodies.
Science Results for Everyone
Zipping along at about Mach 17, the International Space Station makes taking pictures at night a shot in the dark for astronauts.  But the NightPod device can compensate for the motion of the station and track a specific point on Earth. The NightPod produced sharp, high-definition photos of the planet's surface that far exceeded the quality of those from previous missions. The clarity of the images allows night-time documentation of city light pollution, vegetation fires, marine and road traffic, volcanic activity, urban pollution, fishing, and other activities, as well as analysis of day-to-night transitions. The system can be adaptable to look out into space as well.

The following content was provided by Massimo Sabbatini, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Information provided courtesy of the Erasmus Experiment Archive.
Experiment Details


Principal Investigator(s)
Massimo Sabbatini, European Space Research and Technology Research Centre, Noordwijk, Netherlands

Elisabeth Celton, ESTEC HSO-K, Noordwijk, Netherlands

Information Pending

Sponsoring Space Agency
European Space Agency (ESA)

Sponsoring Organization
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Research Benefits
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ISS Expedition Duration 1
September 2011 - September 2012; March 2013 - September 2014

Expeditions Assigned

Previous ISS Missions
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Experiment Description

Research Overview
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Space Applications
ISS night photography:  the Cupola on board the ISS provides a unique vantage point for remote sensing of the Earth. High resolution imagery of the night side of the Earth has great potential in many scientific disciplines and it is visually compelling.  Because a dedicated satellite is not foreseen in the near future, the most likely candidate suppliers of high resolution, global, nocturnal imagery are the crew on board the ISS. The NightPod device has been commissioned by ESA to assist the crew in such tasks:  tracking visual targets on the Earth and neutralising the effect of ISS motion, allowing for an increase in exposure time and therefore the quality of the nocturnal images.

Earth Applications
The imagery of the Earth at Night has a large number of potential applications, from the original motivation to build NightPod, i.e. taking images of cities at night to create a map of the distribution of the population, to mapping fishing activities, light pollution and fires. These are only some of the applications that can benefit from a systematic collection of night imagery of the Earth at Night. The NightPod concept is very basic and allows for the tracking mechanism to be used by a large number of sensors and instruments.

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Operational Requirements
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Operational Protocols
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Results/More Information


Prior to this device, the speed of the space station made photography difficult due to the orbital speed of the Space Station and the low shutter speeds required to capture light at night. With the device’s tracking capability, it can pinpoint and follow the same place on Earth, compensating and correcting for the motion of the Space Station. The subject stays centered in frame so the final image is in focus.Photographing the Earth with the support of NighPod has resulted in very sharp high-definition photos of the planet's surface.  Already, the quality of photos far exceeds previous missions, and given the added clarity, comparisons of the imagery can start to be made over time. Possible scenarios include: cities at night, vegetation fires at night, visual analysis of maritime traffic / road traffic, volcano activity at night, urban pollution, squid fishing at night, day/night transitions. The system has been designed to be adaptable, and astronauts on the Space Station are already thinking of using NightPod to look the other way, into space, taking images of stars and space.


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Related Websites

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NASA Image: ISS034E031609 - View of European Space Agency (ESA) NightPod hardware in the Cupola Module. Photo was taken during Expedition 34.

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NASA Image: ISS034E031612 - View of European Space Agency (ESA) NightPod hardware in the Cupola Module. Photo was taken during Expedition 34.

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