A concept has been developed for a geostationary seismic imager (GSI), a space telescope in geostationary orbit above the Pacific coast of the Americas that would provide movies of many large earthquakes occurring in the area from Southern Chile to Southern Alaska. The GSI movies would cover a field of view as long as 300 km, at a spatial resolution of 3 to 15 m and a temporal resolution of 1 to 2 Hz, which is sufficient for accurate measurement of surface displacements and photometric changes induced by seismic waves. Computer processing of the movie images would exploit these dynamic changes to accurately measure the rapidly evolving surface waves and surface ruptures as they happen. These measurements would provide key information to advance the understanding of the mechanisms governing earthquake ruptures, and the propagation and arrest of damaging seismic waves.

GSI operational strategy is to react to earthquakes detected by ground seismometers, slewing the satellite to point at the epicenters of earthquakes above a certain magnitude. Some of these earthquakes will be foreshocks of larger earthquakes; these will be observed, as the spacecraft would have been pointed in the right direction. This strategy was tested against the historical record for the Pacific coast of the Americas, from 1973 until the present. Based on the seismicity recorded during this time period, a GSI mission with a lifetime of 10 years could have been in position to observe at least 13 (22 on average) earthquakes of magnitude larger than 6, and at least one (2 on average) earthquake of magnitude larger than 7.

A GSI would provide data unprecedented in its extent and temporal and spatial resolution. It would provide this data for some of the world’s most seismically active regions, and do so better and at a lower cost than could be done with groundbased instrumentation. A GSI would revolutionize the understanding of earthquake dynamics, perhaps leading ultimately to effective warning capabilities, to improved management of earthquake risk, and to improved public safety policies.

The position of the spacecraft, its high optical quality, large field of view, and large field of regard will make it an ideal platform for other scientific studies. The same data could be simply reused for other studies. If different data, such as multi-spectral data, is required, additional instruments could share the telescope.

This work was done by Erkin Sidick, Keith Coste, Thomas J. Cunningham, Michael W. Sievers, Gregory S. Agnes, Otto R. Polanco, Joseph J. Green, Bruce A. Cameron, David C. Redding, Jean Philippe Avouac, Jean Paul Ampuero, and Sebastien Leprince of Caltech; Rémi Michel of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie; and Jesse Redding of UC Berkeley for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-48469


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This article first appeared in the November, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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