PhotosynthTM Three-Dimensional Modeling of ISS Interior and Exterior (Photosynth) - 05.24.17

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

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
Not everyone can be an astronaut — but with special image-processing software, anyone can virtually visit the International Space Station. A partnership between NASA and Microsoft Labs creates new 3-D models of the inside and outside of the ISS, stitching together images using Microsoft’s Photosynth software. PhotosynthTM Three-Dimensional Modeling of ISS Interior and Exterior (Photosynth) analyzes individual photographs and detects similarities among them, joining them together to produce a three-dimensional image of a scene.
Science Results for Everyone
Space station, the 3D version! Using technology from Microsoft Live Labs, approximately 900 photographic images of the United States Lab Segment of the International Space Station are used to create a three-dimensional model of the station interior. Viewers can move around the area and zoom in or out to inspect different objects they see. Working with Microsoft, NASA is creating views of the interior and exterior of the station for the web and exhibits so teachers, students, and the public can better visualize the space station size and functions. These 3D views could potentially be used to train future crew members as well.

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


Principal Investigator(s)
Dylan Mathis, Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, United States

Ronald Ticker, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Headquarters, Washington, DC, United States
William Keeter, InDyne, Washington, DC, United States
Chris Kemp, Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, United States
David Gedye, Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, WA, United States

Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, WA, United States
InDyne Incorporated, Washington, DC, United States

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
NASA Education (EDU)

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
October 2008 - October 2009; September 2010 - September 2012

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
Photosynth operations began during ISS Expedition 18.

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • PhotosynthTM technology, developed by Microsoft Live Labs, analyzes single photographs for similarities to other photos taken in the same area. It uses that data to create an environment which leaves the person viewing the model with a three-dimensional (3D) vision similar to what the photographer actually saw. They can move around the area or zoom in and out to inspect different objects in view.

  • NASA, working with Microsoft, is using PhotosynthTM Three-Dimensional Modeling of ISS Interior and Exterior (Photosynth) to create views of the interior and exterior of the International Space Station. These views will be posted on the web and used in exhibits to allow teachers and others to better visualize the Space Station, its size and functions. NASA is also looking at other ways to use these views, such as training future Space Station crewmembers.

  • Microsoft is still developing the Photosynth™ software and assessing new features. NASA will be sharing with Microsoft what it learned about creating the Space Station Photosynth™ views and its uses. Microsoft may use this information to improve its Photosynth™ products.


PhotosynthTM, developed by Microsoft Live Labs, is a developmental software product which synthesizes a three-dimensional (3D) model from a set of still digital images. The PhotosynthTM compiler analyzes each photograph for similarities to the others. It uses that data to create a model of the subject area or object. The models allow for navigation through the linked images and for pixel-based zooming to enlarge smaller features observed in the images. Models will be viewed either through a web site posting or by loading the models and the PhotosynthTM viewer software on a personal computer.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), in collaboration with Microsoft Live Labs, is creating models of the interior and exterior of the International Space Station (ISS) in a study titled Photosynth™ Three-Dimensional Modeling of ISS Interior and Exterior (Photosynth). These models will be used by NASA for educational and public outreach, posted on the world wide web and in exhibition displays. NASA will also evaluate the use of the models as additional documentation of the ISS configuration and for possible assistance in crew training, maintenance operations, logistics support and other mission support areas.

Hi-resolution twelve megapixel images are taken inside the United States Operating Segment (USOS) for compilation into an interior ISS model. These images are taken using standard crew digital photographic equipment and procedures. Digital still images combined with high definition video frames acquired during Space Shuttle flyarounds of the ISS will be used to create an exterior model.

Microsoft has provided NASA with licensed PhotosynthTM beta compiler and viewer software. Feedback on PhotosynthTM model creation, including photographic procedures, and applications as well as beta software performance will be provided to Microsoft for possible enhancement to its software products and interfaces.

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Space Applications
Providing a 3-D view of the space station benefits the ISS program overall, by helping the public understand the station’s scope and capabilities. Users move around inside the image, zooming in and out to see certain areas or objects in better detail. NASA might also use the finished 3-D model to train future astronauts, and to study ISS system maintenance and logistics.

Earth Applications
During the expeditions, crewmembers capture high-resolution images of the interior of the ISS, which are processed with a Photosynth system provided by Microsoft. Images gathered during space shuttle fly-arounds are stitched together for an external view. When the 3-D model is complete, NASA posts it on the Internet and uses it for public outreach. Schools, museums and other educational institutions are able to virtually visit the space station, which helps members of the public understand its size and structure. NASA is also providing feedback to Microsoft about the software’s performance, which the company might use to improve its products.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols

Following capture of 12 megapixel images in a Photosynth session, crewmembers downlink the photographs to Earth for ISS model synthesis by ground teams.

A crewmember will use standard on-board ISS digital photographic equipment to take pictures of the entire interior of the ISS. Before image acquisition all personal items and wall hangings will be removed or covered. Wall and module end areas should be photographed head on and at a 45 degree angle from at least two sides. The images will overlap by approximately 30 percent. The images will be downlinked and used to create 3D models of each module’s interior.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

During Expedition 18 ISS Increment Flight Engineer Sandy Magnus took approximately 900 images of the USOS . These images were downlinked and are currently being used to create the PhotosynthTM models of the ISS interior.

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Related Websites
Microsoft Photosynth

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Two-Dimesional photosynth created from images of the International Space Station. Image created courtesy of

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