Camera on External Tank gives never-before-seen view of laun

by Marshall Space Flight Center

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A spectacular, never-before-seen view of the Space Shuttle and Earth was captured when Space Shuttle Atlantis lifted off Oct. 7 to the International Space Station. A color video camera mounted to the top of Atlantis' External Tank provided a live feed to NASA TV as the Shuttle begin its ascent on the STS-112 mission, until it reached near orbital speed, about 70 miles above the Earth.

For the first time, Space Shuttle astronauts will carry television viewers along for the initial ride into orbit. NASA Television viewers should see a spectacular live view of the orbiter when Space Shuttle Atlantis lifts off Oct. 2.

A color video camera mounted to the top of Atlantis' External Tank will offer a unique perspective as launch occurs. NASA TV plans to provide a live feed from the camera as the shuttle begins its ascent until it reaches near-orbital speed, about 56 miles above the Earth. The camera is expected to provide video for approximately 30 minutes.

The camera, which will provide a view of the front and belly of the orbiter and a portion of the Solid Rocket Boosters and External Tank, will offer the STS-112 team an opportunity to monitor the shuttle's performance from a new angle.

The camera is mounted to the External Tank's liquid oxygen tank, one of two propellant tanks. The External Tank -- the "gas tank" for the shuttle's three main engines -- carries both liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen in two separate tanks. Often referred to as the backbone of the Shuttle because it provides structural support during launch, the External Tank absorbs the 7.8 million pounds of thrust produced at liftoff by the Shuttle's three Main Engines and the two Reusable Solid Rocket Motors.

Located high on the External Tank liquid-oxygen-tank cable tray, the camera is inside an aluminum fairing covered in protective insulating foam. The battery pack and transmitter are contained in an electronics box and mounted in the intertank crossbeam inside the External Tank.

The camera will be turned on fifteen minutes prior to launch and will show the Orbiter and Solid Rocket Boosters on the launch pad. The video will be downlinked from the External Tank during flight to several NASA data-receiving sites and then relayed to the live television broadcast.

The camera is expected to operate for about 15 minutes following liftoff. At liftoff, viewers will see the Shuttle clearing the launch tower and, at two minutes after liftoff, see the right Solid Rocket Booster separate from the External Tank.

When the External Tank separates from Atlantis about eight minutes into the flight, the camera is expected to continue its live feed for about six more minutes. However, NASA may be unable to pick up the camera's signal because the tank may have moved out of range.

The camera, made by CrossLink, Inc. of Boulder, Colo., is six inches long and resembles a short, thin flashlight. A similar camera has been used by The Boeing Co. for video of Delta rocket liftoffs and by Lockheed Martin Company on Atlas rockets.