NASA has eighteen satellite missions studying the Earth, and three Earth-observing instruments aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Additionally, several more missions are scheduled for launch in the coming years.
Your challenge is to develop a tool to allow a person to virtually experience riding aboard one of NASA’s current satellites as it orbits the Earth. What would you see when you looked down at Earth? What about when you looked around? Wave at the other satellites as you pass each other, and watch out for debris! Be sure to look out for the ISS and greet your fellow astronauts!
As you enjoy your tour around the globe, think about all the data these space instruments generate! Many Earth science problems require combining and comparing data from multiple instruments. So, as you orbit over the same stretch of Earth as a fellow satellite, or collect data for a region with ground sensors, ask yourself—are you measuring values from the same place at the same time?
Solving this problem of colocation—determining when two instruments are observing the same patch of the Earth—is not a simple task. Multiple satellites can cross the same geographic area at the same time, but that doesn't mean they're looking at the same patch of land. Individual instruments have different fields of view. For example, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on the Terra and Aqua satellites can see 2,330 km from side to side, but the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar with Orthogonal Polarization (CALIOP) on CALIPSO can only see 70 m across, per orbit! In addition to having different orbital characteristics from one another, satellites also undergo orbital changes over their lifetimes as they are launched, adjusted, and eventually run out of fuel.
As you plan your ride around our home planet, incorporate a tool or tools to determine co-localized data points from other instruments and visualize them!