Sony A7S II shoots stunning footage of Earth at night from the ISS

The camera mounted outside the International Space Station (ISS) is responsible for tracking changes on Earth from the movement of ice to the color of the sea — and now, for the first time, that camera is actually one you can buy in stores. On Thursday, Sony shared the first videos from an orbiting ISS A7S II, the first commercial grade camera with 4K capabilities to be mounted outside the ISS.

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) tested the A7S II to ensure the camera could withstand the harsh environment, with includes cosmic radiation and abrupt temperature fluctuations, Sony says. The Kounotori cargo transporter then took the camera to the ISS, installing the A7S II with an external power supply outside on February 8.

The mounted A7S II records 4K video and still images as the ISS orbits the earth. JAXA says the camera is used for a number of different purposes, including photographing large-scale disasters to estimate the scope of the damage. The camera will also be used to monitor changes in earth, comparing images from two separate time periods to monitor aspects like the movement of ice flows.

JAXA says the A7S II, besides being durable enough to withstand the conditions, has low-light capabilities that the previous camera did not. “Phenomena such as aurora or meteors, or the earth seen at night from space, are a little different from when seen on the ground, so the high sensitivity capture that the α7S II offers is perfect for night shooting,” said Toshitami Ikeda, JAXA associate senior engineer. “The International Space Station makes one orbit of the earth every 90 minutes, and using our previous system, we couldn’t even consider shooting at night, which comes around every 45 minutes. I’m looking forward to its performance and the ability to shoot even in very low light at night.”

The camera is controlled remotely from Earth, a feature made possible from the camera’s USB interface. Unlike the previous camera mounted outside the ISS, the A7S II is also mounted on a two-axis system that allows the camera to shoot at different angles.

The camera is mounted on the KIBO Japanese Experiment Module, which has a robotic arm to adjust equipment without sending an astronaut outside the ISS.

Sony now shares the first still photos and videos from the ISS-mounted camera online.