Sneak peek at 'shuttlecam'

Posted: September 12, 2002

When space shuttle Atlantis thunders to orbit next month a video camera mounted to the external fuel tank will provide an unprecedented live view as the ship and six astronauts go from zero to 17,500 mph in just over eight minutes.

This will be the view seen live during Atlantis' launch. The camera was turned on this week for a test after the shuttle arrived at pad 39B.
Liftoff is scheduled for October 2 between 2 and 6 p.m. EDT (1800-2200 GMT). The exact launch time is kept a secret until 24 hours in advance due to security reasons.

Atlantis will deliver a 15-ton truss structure to the International Space Station during its 11-day mission.

After the success of flying similar cameras on unmanned expendable rockets, NASA officials decided to try one on the space shuttle, giving the public a potentially dazzling perspective of the fury experienced during the climb to space.

"High on what I call the 'wow factor scale', we are hoping on this flight to get interesting, new and unique video. We will for the first time be mounting a public affairs camera on the external tank looking aft, down the stack, through launch," said Phil Engelauf, the lead shuttle flight director for Atlantis' mission.

The camera will be activated about 10 minutes before liftoff and should operate for several minutes after the spent tank is jettisoned from the shuttle once reaching orbit.

The video camera is mounted to the front of the external fuel tank looking down at Atlantis.
From its position on the cable tray running up the front side of the tank, the camera will see all of the key events during launch -- from the first flames of ignition, to the right-hand solid rocket booster falling away and the tank separating from Atlantis.

"We are very optimistic of getting pretty dramatic video going up hill," Engelauf said.

NASA says the camera is to capture the public's attention, not an engineering project.

"The genesis of this, quite honestly, was when the expendables community placed a few of these cameras on some of their vehicles. There was a pretty positive public reaction to the gee-wiz value of the photography. It was neat stuff to look at.

"There may be some engineering value in having that kind of video but we are not doing it because we have any particular agenda from the engineering standpoint for the hardware. I think what we expect to see out of it is largely just for the cool video."

Former NASA Administrator Dan Goldin was one of the camera's main advocates and the project became known in NASA circles as the "DanCam".

Twenty space launches have used this camera system since 1997, including Boeing Delta and Lockheed Martin Atlas and Titan rockets. The most recent was last month aboard the first Atlas 5 flight.

An onboard camera shows the solid rocket motors separating from a Boeing Delta 2 rocket.
"It is a relatively inexpensive way to get this kind of video," Engelauf added. "It is fairly straightforward to do."

Work to fly a shuttle camera began about two years ago when external tank builder Lockheed Martin and the original maker of the cameras, Crosslink, began designing the system. Although the actual cameras for the rockets and shuttle are the same, the housings and way they are attached are different, according to officials with Ecliptic Enterprises of Pasadena, the company that now owns the camera product line.

There are two S-band antennas mounted 180 degrees apart on the tank for transmitting the video.

Five camera packages were built for use on the shuttle. NASA wants them to fly on daytime launches, which can be difficult to predict because the liftoff time for space station missions move roughly 24 minutes earlier each day as the outpost's orbit changes. With the ever-changing shuttle launch schedule, a one-month slip can move a mid-afternoon liftoff to the middle-of-the-night.

In addition to the five shuttle cameras, seven additional U.S. rocket launches over the next year are scheduled to have these onboard cameras.

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