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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 August, 2004, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
Shuttle camera to watch fuel tank
Space shuttle, Nasa
Next year's launch will be the first since the Columbia disaster
The space shuttle's external fuel tank, implicated in the 2003 Columbia disaster, will get its own camera when the orbiter returns to flight in 2005.

Space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry when hot gases flooded a hole in the wing, ripping the shuttle apart and killing seven astronauts.

The hole had been created by a chunk of foam that fell off the external fuel tank during launch two weeks earlier.

Discovery, the sister ship to Columbia, is due to launch in March or April 2005

The launch will be the first since Nasa grounded all shuttle flights following the Columbia disaster.

The camera will be placed in a recessed spot toward the top of the external fuel tank and will transmit live footage for about 15 minutes after launch.

This will allow a group of Nasa officials to monitor how much insulating foam flies off the fuel tank before it is jettisoned.

"They will categorise any anomalous issues that we have," Neil Otte, chief engineer on Lockheed Martin's external tank project, told reporters in Michoud, Louisiana, where Lockheed Martin Space Systems builds the tanks.

Safety overhaul

The investigation into the Columbia accident determined that the hole in the space shuttle's wing had been caused by a briefcase-sized chunk of foam flying off the external tank during lift-off.

The findings led to an overhaul of the way workers apply the foam to the tanks and to heightened inspection systems at the New Orleans plant where the tanks are put together.

Engineers still expect small pieces of the foam to fly off after launch, but they should be harmless, according to Otte.

Cameras will also be mounted on the shuttle's booster rockets and on the ground. The suitcase-sized foam triangles called bipod ramps, which were the source of the chunk that hit Columbia, are to be eliminated.

Heaters will take the place of the foam to keep ice from building up on the cryogenically cooled tanks.

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