Science & Astronomy
11. May 2014

I’ve been watching the new ISS Earth live stream for over a week, but it seems that only now the mainstream press seems to have really noticed it, although Universe Today and a couple of other space-themed media outlets reported the news around May 1st. There seems to be a little confusion about the cameras – this is not the commercial UrtheCast system, which is still in closed beta, but a separate NASA project called the HDEV or High Definition Earth Viewing Experiment. Four different comercially available HD cameras have been put in a climate controlled, but basically otherwise unshielded housing and installed outside the ISS. One camera is looking forward, one down and two aft. The whole unit does not record anything on the station, but directly downlinks its stream to Earth.

While the stream is publicly available over the UStream website, the main reason for this project is to test how modern video cameras are fairing in space. Some parts of the systems were designed by high school students through the NASA Hunch program and student teams are also responsible for the operation of the cameras. One thing to remember when watching the stream is that it is really an experiment – the cameras are fixed and do not have any zoom or panning capability, but switch their views automatically. Of course, there is nothing to see when the ISS is flying over the night side of the earth because the cameras are not light-sensitive enough, but the sunsets and sunrises can be spectacular like in the screenshot above. The broadcast also sometimes has gaps because the bandwith-intensive video connection does not cover the entire globe – just wait a little when a grey screen is shown until the image comes back.

I recommend having a look at the ISSTracker website or the excellent Orbitron program to find out where the ISS currently is – there is hardly a delay in the broadcast so that the orbit indicator is very accurate and can help predict when the station is on the night side of the planet. The bottom line is simply that the views are absolutely gorgeous and while there has been live streaming from the ISS before, this is the very first time that live video from the space station is available in really good quality. Welcome to the future :-).

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