10 February 2000
Australian researchers will play an important role as NASA takes a new look at the earth from space.
NASA's latest satellite, the Earth Observing-1 satellite, set for launch in May, will contain the 'Hyperion' imaging equipment the first of its kind in space and a pioneer of a new period of advanced imaging.
"Hyperion is an experiment with a new technology for space, which will provide us with a much greater range of information about the earth's surface," says Dr David Jupp, head of CSIRO's Earth Observation Centre.
CSIRO and the Australian Centre for Remote Sensing (ACRES) have been selected to participate in one of the ten Science Teams, drawn from research institutes around the world, in the NASA experiment.
Scientists from NASA, and TRW Inc the American company that built Hyperion are currently visiting key sites in Australia, some of them very remote, to be used in the experiment.
According to Dr Jupp, Hyperion is unique because it will 'see' the earth from space in 220 different spectral bands like different colours, but ranging from visible light to infrared. Other earth observation satellites currently in operation see up to only seven spectral bands. This 'Hyperspectral' imaging (meaning 'many spectral bands') has until now only been achieved from aircraft or from the ground.
"Current satellites measure only broad bands of colour on earth. Hyperion will see much more," says Dr Jupp. "For example, Hyperion will be able to distinguish 10 different shades of red, where a current operational satellite, such as Landsat, will see only one shade of red. It will also be able to see bands of light that the human eye cannot.
"Being able to measure such detail allows us to determine the composition of rocks and soils, the types of algae or other pollutants in water or even the component types of tree in a forest," says Dr Jupp. "We may even be able to map the water content of leaves or the level of stress in trees, which would tell us about the state of forests in much more detail than is possible with current satellites."
CSIRO researchers will also help TRW Inc to test that the instrument is working properly during the first 60 days of its flight. They will help with the important task of calibrating the instrument by comparing Hyperion's readings from five Australian test sites with measurements collected from the ground and from aircraft.
"Everybody using the data from Hyperion will need to know how to correct its readings for factors like the effect of the atmosphere," says Dr Jupp. "We need to make sure that Hyperion sees the same shade of red, for example, that we would see if we looked ourselves or measured it from the ground.
"We're in an excellent position to provide this information for NASA," says Dr Jupp. "Australia has a wonderful variety of landscapes to test the instrument on, from Lake Argyle in WA, which appears dark from space, to the bright glare of the Strzelecki desert.
"We also have a long history of data from past and present CSIRO research with which to compare the readings, so that we know if the instrument in functioning properly," he says.
"Hyperion is the first hyperspectral sensor on a satellite," says Dr Jupp. "Over coming years, such satellite-based sensors will provide a unique, detailed perspective of large parts of the globe. Among these will be the Australian Resource Information and Environment Satellite (ARIES) Hyperspectral satellite which will be similar to, but more advanced than, Hyperion."
Hyperspectral imaging works because all substances create an often unique spectral 'fingerprint' which can be captured by instruments like Hyperion. From this 'fingerprint', specific substances can be definitively identified, including pollutants, minerals, various components of trees and even corals beneath shallow water.
The Earth Observing-1 satellite will be the first in NASA's New Millennium Program Earth Observing series of satellites to be launched.
Dr Steve Ungar from NASA and Drs Jay Pearlman and Carol Segal from TRW will be touring the Australian sites from February 7 to 12th. They are available for comment in Canberra on the 10th and 11th of February via David Jupp at (02) 6216 7203.
More information, pictures:
Dr David Jupp 02-6216 7203
Janelle Kennard 02-6216 7157
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