The Pathfinder camera comes as a new prototype built by NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development under the SERVIR program. The U.S. agencies want the camera to help track changes in environmental disaster zones as it gazes through a 20-inch window in the space station’s Destiny module.
The camera headed for the International Space Station has the resolution to spot objects as small as cows down below — but it’s using that power to take pictures of floods, landslides, forest fires and similar disasters on Earth.
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“Let’s assume an earthen dam gives way in Bhutan,” said Burgess Howell, a science lead for the SERVIR. “With an instrument like Pathfinder, we could show disaster officials where the bridge is out, for example, or the hospital is gone, the road washed out or the power substation inundated.”
Pathfinder could even help estimate the number of destroyed buildings and their location, Howell said. The camera is designed to automatically take photos at seven frames per second for bursts of 6 to 8 seconds, for a total of about 40 to 60 images per overhead pass in orbit.