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Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
Shuttlecam to give rocket ride
Shuttlecam, Nasa
The view the camera will show of the orbiter

Tired of waiting for a lottery payout to buy a ride into orbit?


It really gives you a feeling of being more in the picture yourself

Neil Otte
The US space agency (Nasa) has something that may tide over armchair rocketeers: Shuttlecam.

Borrowing an idea from the commercial launching industry, Nasa has strapped a digital camera and transmitters to the orbiter's external fuel tank to provide out-of-this-world video during this week's blast-off.

The camera will be rolling - and relaying - an extraordinary view, looking down from above at the shuttle, starting about 10 minutes before lift-off and continuing through the vehicle's arrival in orbit 8 1/2 minutes later.

PR requirement

Blast-off of the shuttle Atlantis on a space station assembly mission was scheduled for Wednesday but a hurricane headed towards Houston, Texas - home of Nasa's mission control center - has forced a delay.

Jason launch, Nasa
Delta rockets have used the system
Nevertheless, when the shuttle does eventually lift off, flight director Phil Engelauf says the video's "wow factor" should be high.

"When the expendable (rocket) community placed a few of these cameras on some of their vehicles, there was pretty positive public reaction," said Engelauf. "It was neat stuff to look at."

Although engineers are eager for a close-up view of the shuttle's zero-to-17,500 mph (28,200 km/h) race into orbit, the video stems from a $3.8m public relations effort, not a technical requirement.

Rocket debut

"We are not doing it because we have any particular agenda from the engineering standpoint for the hardware," said Engelauf.

"What we expect to see is largely just for the cool video."

With strong backing from former Nasa administrator Dan Goldin, the Shuttlecam project began in 1999, a few years after Boeing flew an externally mounted video camera on one of its unmanned Delta rockets.

Since then, rocketcams have been included on 19 other launchers, including the debut flight last month of Lockheed Martin's Atlas 5 rocket.

Pacific fall

"I think it's going to be a great perspective," said Neil Otte, chief engineer for the shuttle external fuel tank programme at Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

"It really gives you a feeling of being more in the picture yourself."

If Shuttlecam proves a success, Nasa has equipment for four sequels.

The cameras are good for just one flight each. They will end up on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean along with the remains of the external fuel tank, which is jettisoned shortly before the shuttle reaches orbit.

See also:

26 Sep 02 | Science/Nature
05 Aug 02 | Science/Nature
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