Space station astronauts use robotic tripods to take long-exposure photos
Here on Earth, taking a photo at night is as simple as bumping up your ISO, or sticking the camera onto a tripod and taking a long exposure shot. Up on the International Space Station (ISS), however, things get a little tricky when the whole station is orbiting around the Earth.
Obviously, a regular tripod is not going to suffice, so the European Space Agency built a special electronically stabilized camera mount called the NightPod. The device allows astronauts aboard the space station to capture sharper images of Earth while eliminating any motion blur.
The NightPod basically works by using a “nodding mechanism” to automatically move the camera to compensate for the motion of the ISS. It might sound like some small adjustments, but the motorized mount is designed compensate for both the rotation of the Earth and the fact that the ISS moves at a rate more than 17,000 miles per hour (27,000 kilometers per hour). Whee!
Before using the NightPod, astronauts have to punch in the space station’s orbit and altitude. After that, the system automatically tracks a target to keep in the frame for optimal focus. It can also take photos by itself for up to six hours.
The NightPod has been on the ISS since February 24, 2012. Before the system was installed, astronauts used a number of different ways to take better low-light photos, including high-speed films and manual tracking with the camera to compensate for the ground motion.
Like other space technology, we’ll probably see this trickle down to something we can use when we’re all living in space.