Press Releases

International Space Station: High Definition Earth Viewing Cameras Project to Study the Design Effectiveness & Rate of Camera Image Quality Degradation in Space + New Mobile Servicing System Cameras’ Features Will Include Colour, High Dynamic Range, Advanced Focus & Digital Zoom

High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) Cameras of the International Space Station (ISS)

The following video (2014) presents Planet Earth HD View at Night from ISS (1080p):

On Space Station, Earth’s Beauty is in the Eye of the High Definition Beholder

A series of new Earth science instruments launching to the International Space Station over the next year is prompting a new era of Earth observation from the orbiting outpost. These new tools that monitor ocean winds and measure clouds and pollution in the atmosphere, among other climate science phenomena, will help NASA deliver important information to climate researchers.

While these new Earth science instruments collect valuable information on our changing planet, one current Earth observation study continuously streams live views of Earth directly to your desktop or mobile internet device. The High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) investigation allows anyone with an internet connection to view our world from above. Tune in to the HDEV live stream here.

The HDEV project employs four commercially available cameras to stream the first continuous, high definition video from the space station. During the two-year study period, researchers hope to determine the best types of cameras to use on future missions by subjecting them to the harsh space environment. The cameras are enclosed in a temperature-specific case and mounted outside the Columbus laboratory to monitor how quickly they degrade during exposure to radiation in microgravity.

“We know over time that the cameras will begin to degrade,” said David Hornyak, engineer and HDEV project manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We will operate the cameras to determine how long it takes and to learn what that degradation characteristic looks like to provide information on the planning and design of future imagery systems. It is expected that the cameras will not just turn off, but they will have some type of image degradation and at some point, that degradation will be bad enough that the image is no longer useful.”

With the use of commercially available cameras, the research team also hopes to validate cameras that may be more cost-effective for future missions. If a camera is readily available on Earth and proves to hold up well in space, purchasing this type of camera would likely be cheaper than designing a new product.

By using four different types of cameras, each has a different type of technology to analyze for what works best in space. Once a week, the project team uses an automated software program to compare pixels on night imagery taken by the cameras to assess the deterioration of each camera. The pixels are easier to see and compare in dark images than in those with objects and multiple colors included.

“The project team is building up a database of knowledge for selecting cameras in the future,” explained Hornyak. “With this information, we will have an understanding of how much time we have on orbit before a camera has to be replaced.”

Another noteworthy feature of HDEV is that the High School Students United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) program participated in its development. HUNCH is an instructional partnership between NASA, high school and intermediate/middle school students to build cost-effective hardware and soft goods both for use on the space station and for training NASA astronauts and flight controllers. Students from the Clear Creek, Cypress Woods, Conroe and North Shore Senior High schools in the Houston, Texas area built much of the secondary structure that supports components of the HDEV flight system.

Additional educational connections with HDEV include involvement from the University of Bonn in Germany and the University of Houston – Clear Lake in Texas. Students from both universities have the opportunity to operate HDEV and participate in monitoring effects on the HDEV cameras through the duration of the project. The University of Bonn created the Columbus Eye website for HDEV viewing and plans to create interactive tools to support the continuous imagery downlink from space. Plans for University of Houston’s participation are still in work.

Though communication coverage between the space station and the ground is near-continuous, there are times when a loss of signal occurs and the communication from HDEV is temporarily unavailable. Observers may experience times of inaccessibility to the HDEV signal due to a change in communications satellites within range of the space station; when there is no line of sight between the station’s antenna and the communications satellites, as when a satellite is over the horizon or blocked by a structure on the space station; or, during times of station, satellite or ground infrastructure maintenance. The HDEV site will display an image that the signal is down or display darkness when the station is on the night side of the Earth.


HDEV Facts:

  • While the HDEV collects beautiful images of the Earth from the ISS, the primary purpose of the experiment is an engineering one: monitoring the rate at which HD video camera image quality degrades when exposed to the space environment (mainly from cosmic ray damage) and verify the effectiveness of the design of the HDEV housing for thermal control.
  • The four cameras of the HDEV experiment are oriented in different directions and with different views relative to the ISS travel direction. They are in positioned, 1 looking forward, 1 looking nearly straight down, and 2 looking back. This provides several different viewing angles to the viewer.
  • The cameras are programmed to cycle from one camera to the next, and only one camera can work at a time. As they cycle, each camera must turn off and the next camera turn on before the HD video starts, taking about 8 to 10 seconds to change. Through this cycling, comparable data can be collected on each camera; while also providing, as a bonus, different Earth viewing perspectives.
  • The University of Bonn in partnership with the German Space Agency (DLR) is implementing the “Columbus Eye” program based on the HDEV streaming video. A webpage is in place ( in German) that incorporates the HDEV UStream video and describes the Columbus Eye project, which will leverage ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Alexander Gerst educational activities in space.
  • HDEV suite is configured on a platform on the exterior of the European Space Agency’s Columbus laboratory module of the ISS.

For all questions regarding HDEV, please contact the HDEV Principal Investigator, Susan Runco.

The HDEV live stream is located at .

Canadarm2 and the Mobile Servicing System Cameras on the ISS

  • Launched on STS-100 in April 2001, the next generation robot arm, called Canadarm2, is a bigger, better, smarter version of the robotic arm that was on the space shuttles.
  • It is 57.7 feet long when fully extended and has seven motorized joints.
  • This arm is capable of handling large payloads and helped build the entire orbiting complex.
  • It has latches on either end, allowing it to be moved by both ground controllers and the Expedition crews to various portions of the station. It has even been used to move astronauts around during spacewalks.
  • The Mobile Base System is a work platform that moves along rails covering the length of the space station. It provides lateral mobility for the Canadarm2 as it traverses the main trusses. It has four grapple fixtures on board that can hold cargo carriers, Canadarm2 and Dextre. The Mobile Base System was added to the station during STS-111 in June 2002.
  • International Space Station’s Mobile Servicing System (MSS, a.k.a Canadarm 2) has four color cameras (one at each side of the elbow, the other two on the Latching End Effectors):
The Expedition 11 crew aboard the International Space Station flexes the robotic arm, Canadarm2, while flying approximately 225 miles above Cape Horn. Image Credit: NASA.

The Expedition 11 crew aboard the International Space Station flexes the robotic arm, Canadarm2, while flying approximately 225 miles above Cape Horn. Image Credit: NASA.

After more than 13 years of supporting on-orbit operations, the MSS camera systems are nearing the end of their design life.

  • With ISS operations continuing through 2024, the new MSS camera systems to be designed and upgraded by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) will provide superior illumination and viewing for critical robotic operations like capture of visiting spacecraft, maintenance and inspection of the ISS.
  • New camera features will include colour, high dynamic range, advanced focus and digital zoom to enhance ISS robotic operations.


June 18, 2015

MDA to design and develop high performance camera systems for the International Space Station

Richmond, BCMacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (“MDA” or the “Company”) (TSX: MDA), a global communications and information company, today announced that it has signed a contract for CA$11 million with the Canadian Space Agency to design and develop upgraded camera systems for the Mobile Servicing System (MSS). The contract includes an option for the build and test of flight cameras.

After more than 13 years of supporting on-orbit operations, the MSS camera systems are nearing the end of their design life. With International Space Station (ISS) operations continuing through 2024, the new camera systems will provide superior illumination and viewing for critical robotic operations like capture of visiting spacecraft, maintenance and inspection of the ISS. Camera features will include colour, high dynamic range, advanced focus and digital zoom to enhance ISS robotic operations.

“The cameras build on MDA’s experience in developing low risk, high reliability camera systems for mission-critical space applications,” said Craig Thornton, the general manager responsible for the robotics business. “The technology will be applicable to a wide variety of future space applications—from inspection systems aboard commercial satellites to planetary missions.”

The MSS performs a variety of on-orbit operations ranging from resupply, maintenance, and servicing tasks that are critical to the on-going operations of the ISS. The MSS comprises Canadarm2, the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator and the Mobile Base System.

About MDA

MDA is a global communications and information company providing operational solutions to commercial and government organizations worldwide.

MDA’s business is focused on markets and customers with strong repeat business potential, primarily in the Communications sector and the Surveillance and Intelligence sector. In addition, the Company conducts a significant amount of advanced technology development.

MDA’s established global customer base is served by more than 4,800 employees operating from 11 locations in the United States, Canada, and internationally.

The Company’s common shares trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol “MDA.”

Related Websites

Forward-Looking Statements

This release contains forward-looking statements and information, which reflect the current view of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (“MDA” or the “Company”) with respect to future events and financial performance. The forward-looking statements in this regard include statements regarding the award of contract with a government agency. Any such forward-looking statements are based on MDA’s current expectations, estimates, projections and assumptions in light of its experience and its perception of historical trends. The factors and assumptions underlying the forward-looking statements in this release include contracts with any government agency not being terminated. Any such forward-looking statements are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from current expectations. MDA cautions readers that should certain risks or uncertainties materialize, or should underlying assumptions prove incorrect, actual results may vary significantly from those expected. The risks that could cause actual results to differ from current expectations include, but are not limited to: changes in government priorities, mandates, policies, funding levels, contracts and regulations; risks associated with the design, development and operation of camera systems in an extraterrestrial environment; failure of third parties and subcontractors; and failure of systems to meet performance requirements.

For additional information with respect to certain of these risks or factors, plus additional risks or factors, reference should be made to the Company’s continuous disclosure materials filed from time to time with Canadian securities regulatory authorities, which are available online under the Company’s profile at or on the Company’s website at

The Toronto Stock Exchange has neither approved nor disapproved the form or content of this release.

The following video presents Monthly ISS Research Video Update for May 2015:

  • See the highlights of recent research conducted on the International Space Station during May.