Online Master’s Degree in Geographic Information Sciences Launched; NGA Debuts New Public Web Site; GPS Satellite Launch Pushed Back; World’s Highest Resolution Commercial Earth-Imaging Satellite is Launched; and GPS-Like Lunar Navigation System for Moonwalkers to be Developed

Online Master's Degree in Geographic Information Sciences Launched

The University of Denver (DU) launched a master’s degree in geographical information science for the 2008-2009 academic year. The new MSGISc degree is offered through a partnership between the Department of Geography at the University of Denver and DU’s school of professional and continuing studies, University College. “Over the past five years, we have experienced rapid growth in our online GIS certificate program student population,” said Steven Hick, academic director at University College. “The addition of the online master’s degree option gives our GIS certificate students the opportunity to advance their academic credentials to a master’s degree, thereby improving their value in the expanding GIS job market.”

According to school officials, the MSGISc program recognizes the growing importance of geographic information science and the need to integrate advanced study in geographic information systems, remote sensing and global positioning systems with traditional studies in human, cultural and physical geography. Students in the 48-credit-hour program will complete the first half of the degree by taking courses offered through the University College graduate certificate program in GIS. The second half comprises courses offered through the Department of Geography’s Master of Science in Geographic Information Sciences.

Complete information on this new degree is available at www.universitycollege.du.edu.

NGA Debuts New Public Web Site

The Department of Defense combat support National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) announced in late August the launch of its redesigned public Web site, www.nga.mil. The NGA Web site now provides easier navigation and updated content about the agency, its partners, ongoing activities, products, services and the geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) produced and acquired by the NGA.

The redesigned Web site comprises six categories: NGA Jobs; Newsroom; Products and Services; GEOINT Online (GO); About; and an interactive Kids Page, which is intended to encourage interest in GEOINT among 4- to 10-year-olds. Web site features include the “Who What Where NGA?” video, which highlights the agency’s mission to develop imagery and map-based intelligence solutions for U.S. national defense, homeland security and safety of navigation; a monthly feature article on issues of interest to NGA and its partners; and a link to NGA’s publication, Pathfinder.

GEOINT Online, or GO, has been upgraded significantly in an effort to provide a new capability centered on a common user interface for discovery of and integrated access to unclassified GEOINT content, services, expertise and support, NGA officials said. GO supports Collaboration Communities, which are designed as a tool to exchange data, analytic knowledge and services across the intelligence community, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. These communities can be tailored to specific topics of GEOINT interest. Anyone with an account can create a community, host content and determine user-access privileges.

The NGA Web site limits access to GO and the Products and Services areas to .mil and .gov computer addresses and selected individuals and groups. To determine eligibility and apply for access, go to www.nga.mil.

GPS Satellite Launch Pushed Back

The launch of Block IIR-20 GPS satellite, SVN49, has been postponed. IIR-20 carries a demonstration payload built by ITT, a Lockheed Martin subcontractor, that will temporarily transmit a third civil signal on the L5 frequency at 1176.45 MHz.

Originally slated for launch in June 2008, the U.S. Air Force has pushed back the launch date to no earlier than Nov. 7, 2008, according to Dennis Manning, orbital analyst for the NGA’s GPS Division. The launch date for the IIR-21, SVN50, the last Block IIR satellite, which was scheduled for launch on Dec. 18, has also been rescheduled for Dec. 31. The series of delays, Manning said, are administrative in nature, not technical. “It is primarily [determining] where they are going to put it,” Manning said. “Once they decommission a satellite, they can launch these and put them in a specific slot.”

For more information, go to the NGA GPS Division Web site, earth-info.nga.mil/GandG/sathtml/index.html.

World's Highest Resolution Commercial Earth-Imaging Satellite is Launched

GeoEye Inc. successfully launched and deployed the world’s highest resolution commercial Earth-imaging satellite, GeoEye-1, on Sept. 6. “This launch, and our important relationship with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), shows how public-private partnerships can be successful for the collection of broad areas of the Earth,” said Matthew O’Connell, GeoEye chief executive officer. GeoEye-1 is part of the NGA NextView program, which ensures NGA access to commercial imagery in support of its national security mission.

GeoEye-1 will simultaneously collect 0.41-meter ground resolution black-and-white (panchromatic) images and 1.65-meter color (multispectral) images. Making 15 daily orbits, the satellite will capture digital images of the Earth from 423 miles up while traveling at approximately 4.5 miles per second. Its ITT-built imaging system can distinguish objects on Earth as small as a baseball diamond and can map locations to within approximately 9 feet without ground control points, officials said. However, for customers not granted a waiver by the U.S. government, GeoEye’s operating license from NOAA requires resampling of the imagery to half-meter resolution.

GeoEye Inc. expects to offer GeoEye-1 imagery and products by mid- to late-October. A video of the launch is available at launch.geoeye.com.

GPS-Like Lunar Navigation System for Moonwalkers to be Developed

The National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) funded researchers with $1.2 million in August to develop a navigation system that will aid astronauts of the Constellation Program’s 2020 moon landing.

The Lunar Astronaut Spatial Orientation and Information System, or LASOIS, will combine an integrated network of motion-based sensors, surface cameras and orbiter maps with information technology to provide astronauts with the familiar look and feel of a GPS-based system. “Navigation on the moon is more difficult than on Earth because of the featureless terrain, which makes it harder to judge distance due to a lack of visual cues,” said Dr. Jeanne Becker, associate director and chief scientist at the NSBRI, a scientific partnership with NASA that seeks solutions to health concerns facing astronauts on long-term missions. “This device will help astronauts with visual orientation while on the lunar surface making navigation easier and with less risk of becoming directionally disoriented.”

This artist’s rendering shows an astronaut’s view of the lunar navigation system, LASOIS, which OSU researchers and colleagues are developing. Image by Kevin Gecsi, courtesy of OSU

The three-year grant was awarded to Rongxing “Ron” Li, Ph.D., professor of civil and environmental engineering and geodetic science at The Ohio State University, who designed NASA’s localization and navigation system upgrades for the Spirit and Opportunity rovers currently on Mars.

LAOIS is intended to enhance an astronaut’s spatial-orientation capabilities by providing consistent global and local orientation and navigation information. According to Li’s explanation of the system in The Ohio State University’s “Research News,” images taken from orbit will be combined with images from the surface to create maps of lunar terrain; motion sensors on lunar vehicles and attached to astronauts will allow computers to calculate their locations; and signals from lunar beacons, the lunar lander, and base stations will give astronauts a map of their surroundings similar to what they would see if using a GPS device back on Earth. “It is critical for technologies to be user friendly,” Becker said, “and any similarities to technologies the astronauts are already familiar with is beneficial as it will likely decrease time needed for training on the device.”

Li’s interdisciplinary team will also examine how best to communicate information to the astronauts from a cognitive science perspective with the goal of preventing disorientation problems experienced by Apollo moonwalkers. “When they [astronauts] land, they kind of lose the sense of orientation, size and shape of objects,” Li said. “Usually you overestimate size on the lunar surface.” Li will work with academics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Man Vehicle Laboratory and the University of California-Berkeley Visual Space Perception Laboratory. Partners at the NASA Glenn Research Center are tasked with converting a pre-existing communications beacon to perform both communication and navigation functions. MIT researchers will design the touchscreen astronauts will wear, which will provide online self-localization and path-generation capabilities. University of California-Berkeley researchers will develop visual cues to help astronauts to find their way and study the types of psychological stress experienced by astronauts.

LASOIS testing and astronaut training is projected to be completed by 2011, which will give NASA nine years to successfully incorporate LASOIS before the 2020 Constellation Program moon landing.



Associate Editor Wendy Lyons compiles “Newsline.” Contact her at 248/786-1620 or lyonsw@bnpmedia.