NASA Needs Better Shuttle Pictures

Article written: 30 Jul , 2003
Updated: 24 Mar , 2012
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Image credit: CAIB

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board released its fifth major finding today, which recommends that NASA improve the way it takes photographs of the shuttle launch. During the launch of Columbia, NASA cameras provided poor images from a critical point of view which would have showed foam falling from the external fuel tank more clearly. NASA is considering additional ground, aircraft, and even shuttle-mounted cameras to better document future launches. The final report is expected within a month.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board today issued its fifth preliminary finding and recommendation to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in advance of its appearance in the final report.

Recommendation Five:

  • Provide a capability to obtain and downlink high-resolution images of the External Tank (ET) after ET separation. Modifying one of the two umbilical cameras to meet this requirement is acceptable.
  • Provide a capability to obtain and downlink high-resolution images of the underside of the orbiter leading edge system and forward section of both wings? Thermal Protection System (TPS).

Facts:

  • Imaging the Space Shuttle System during launch and ascent provides necessary engineering data including the ability to examine the Space Shuttle System for any unexpected debris or other anomalies during ascent.
  • The Shuttle has two on-board cameras that image the ET after separation, but the images from these cameras are available only post-flight.
  • Very little engineering quality, on-board imaging of the ET was available for STS-107.

Findings:

  • There is a requirement to obtain and downlink on-board engineering quality imaging from the vehicle during launch and ascent.

Background:

  • The Space Shuttle is still a developmental vehicle, and engineering data from each launch is essential to further understand the vehicle.
  • An ability to provide engineering quality imaging data of the ET after separation is important to determine if any debris from the ET was shed during ascent.
  • Since the total elimination of all sources of debris has not yet been achieved, a much better understanding of all the potential sources of debris is required.
  • Since the total elimination of all sources of debris has not yet been achieved, early detection of debris strikes against the forward underwing TPS of both wings will increase safety margins.
  • The CAIB is aware of the excellent preliminary work already in progress at NASA in this area.

Original Source: CAIB News Release


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