Meteor Composition Determination (Meteor) - 03.20.19

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

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Meteor Composition Determination (Meteor) makes the first space-based observations of the chemical composition of meteors entering Earth’s atmosphere. Meteors are relatively rare, and are difficult to monitor from the ground because of the interference created by Earth’s atmosphere. The Meteor investigation takes 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.
Science Results for Everyone
Initiation of this investigation has been affected by the loss of the Orbital-3 launch vehicle and mission in October 2014.

The following content was provided by Michael Fortenberry, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: Meteor

Principal Investigator(s)
Michael Fortenberry, Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, TX, United States

Tomoko Arai, Ph.D., Planetary Exploration Research Center, Narashino-city, Japan

Chiba Institute of Technology, Narashino, Japan

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
National Laboratory (NL)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery, Space Exploration

ISS Expedition Duration
March 2016 - October 2019

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Information Pending

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Meteor spectra are commonly observed from the ground or aircraft by instruments pointing at the sky during a reliably known meteor shower.
  • Meteors cross the field of view of the observer’s instrument and are recorded either photographically or electronically. Spectral measurements are made by a spectrograph, which records all wavelengths instantaneously.
  • Investigators can then determine elemental abundances and temperatures by comparing known synthetic spectra to observed spectra.
  • These ground or aircraft measurements, however, are limited to very short periods of observation time and small portions of the Earth’s atmosphere. Additionally, ground and aircraft based meteor observations are limited by ozone absorption in the terrestrial atmosphere. This absorption masks the important “organic” carbon spectral emission.
  • Satellite detectors can overcome these limits. Meteor Composition Determination (Meteor) provides a continuous monitor of meteor interaction with the Earth’s atmosphere without limitations of the ozone absorption.
  • The resultant data aims to record the first measurement of meteor flux and allows for monitoring of carbon-based compounds. Investigation of meteor elemental composition is important to our understanding of how the planets developed.


Meteor Composition Determination (Meteor) is a new International Space Station (ISS) payload. Meteor's mission objective is to fly a visible spectroscopy instrument to the ISS for the primary purpose of observing meteors in Earth orbit. Meteor uses image analysis to provide information on the physical and chemical properties of the meteoroid dust, such as size, density, and chemical composition. Since the parent comets or asteroids for most of the meteor showers are identified, the study of the meteoroid dust on orbit provides information about the parent comets and asteroids. Meteor plans to operate for 2 years (as allowed by science priorities) in the WORF volume.
The Meteor camera is equipped with IR cut filer, which provides visible light only, up to 700 nm. The visible light is sufficient for spectral analyses to obtain the meteors' elemental composition, because the atomic emission lines of major elements are located within the visible wavelengths as follows: Fe (370nm), Ca (393nm), Mg (518nm), and Na (589nm).
The WORF window has limited (~21%) transmittance at the 370 nm wavelength but is still useful for this study. On-orbit there are no distortions caused by weather and atmospheric disturbances which affect ground-based observation.  Therefore, flux data collected on-orbit allows for better comparison of data from observed meteor showers. The objectives for the Meteor payload include:
  • Primary:  the periods around the peak of major meteor showers are the highest priority for observations.
  • Secondary:  periods outside of the peak of major meteor; minor meteor showers; and periods with little or no regular meteor activity identified.
  • Tertiary (Targets of Opportunity): observation of de-orbiting spacecraft and daytime terrestrial targets at the request of NASA.

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Space Applications
Meteor showers are predictable events, and the Meteor investigation can be programmed to view meteor showers in advance. Meteor records spectral measurements which can reveal meteors’ chemical makeup. Investigating the elemental composition of meteors is important to our understanding of how the planets developed.

Earth Applications
The Meteor investigation provides the first space-based measurement of meteor flux. It also allows for the monitoring of carbon-based compounds. Continuous measurement of meteor interactions with the Earth’s atmosphere could also spot previously unforeseen meteor showers.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols

Meteor is to be operational onboard the ISS, installed in the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF) rack, for a two year period. Meteor makes observations during the night portion of each ISS orbit, and plans to operate during periods of predicated and well known meteor showers. Figures 1 and 2 below show the Major and Minor Meteor Event dates predicted during calendar year 2014.

Meteor utilizes the Destiny module nadir window for Earth viewing. After transfer to ISS, Meteor operates mounted inside the Window Observational Research Facility (WORF). Crew activities include installation, lens changeout, hard drive changeout, and a brief focus activity.  When configured onboard, Meteor operations are fully autonomous. The Meteor team, located in Chiba, Japan, performs mission planning; coordinates with the Payload Operations Center at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC); and uses the Software Toolkit for Ethernet Lab-Like Architecture (STELLA) to generate commands and retrieve data for Meteor onboard operations.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Information Pending

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Related Websites

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Figure 1.  Major Meteor Events during 2014.

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Figure 2.  Minor Meteor Events during 2014.

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NASA Image:  ISS047E126086 - View during the meteor setup and installation, in the U.S. Laboratory - installed in Window Observational Research Facility (WORF). Photo taken during Expedition 47.

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