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Cameras Promise a Look at Space Experiments

Photonics Spectra
Jul 2001
Richard Gaughan

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- One justification for the multibillion-dollar International Space Station is that it is an orbiting laboratory. Rather than constructing a different satellite to conduct each experiment, researchers can use the resources on the space station. It would be desirable, however, to have station personnel perform the work with the virtual assistance of the researchers on the ground.

To do this, high-fidelity information would have to be available to the earthbound scientists, such as detailed visuals over a high-definition television feed. This capability does not yet exist, but a California company is working to change that.

DreamTime Inc. plans to send a high-definition television camera to the space station this summer. The initial flight will certify the camera, battery charger and film for space- flight. It will provide the opportunity to downlink frames intermittently and could allow some video over NASA's Ku-band, but most video will be unavailable until the film is returned to Earth.

Bill Foster, the CEO of DreamTime, expects that the high-definition film will be used for broadcast television, NASA television and documentary production, but he sees the entertainment applications as a small part of the project. Besides providing the immediate capability for scientists to monitor experiments in orbit, the project will lay the groundwork for high-resolution video from beyond Earth's orbit, and even from other planets.

The company has made plans to increase bandwidth for real-time transmission. It hopes that its partnerships with Lockheed Martin and NHK will yield improved encoders to reduce bandwidth requirements and to raise transmission speeds to 150 MB/s, which would enable the transmission of three high-definition channels to ground stations.

Expect the unexpected


DreamTime's collaboration agreement with NASA does not require that the space agency pay for hardware developments. For example, the certification of the camera is commercially funded. Rather, the agency is entitled to 5 percent of the revenue generated from the new imaging capability. Foster contrasted this arrangement with the historical sale of mineral rights on federal lands in the US.

"If instead of 14 cents per acre, the agreements were structured to give the government 1 percent of the mining revenue, I don't believe anyone from the government or the mining companies would be complaining; yet the government would have received significantly more value," he said. DreamTime's agreement, he noted, is based on the understanding that the potential of space cannot realistically be predicted.

"We're taking the first steps towards becoming a spacefaring civilization," Foster said, "and the changes coming are probably not exactly what people have in mind."Richard Gaughan


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