Kennedy Space Center upgrades video system

Kennedy Space Center upgrades video system

NASA is making a $40 million upgrade to video cameras surrounding the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Armando Oliu, who leads the final inspection team that analyzes space shuttle ascent images, called it 'a significant investment in the future of shuttle launches.'

Before the Columbia disaster in February 2003, an on-site camera did capture images of the fatal debris falling from the shuttle's main fuel tank onto Columbia's wing. But the film was too fuzzy to show much detail, Oliu said yesterday at the Government Video Technology Expo in Washington.

The launch pad has 30 video cameras that focused on individual pieces of shuttle equipment during liftoff. Another 11 higher-resolution motion picture cameras are positioned further from the launch area, and long-range cameras with telescopic lenses follow the spacecraft skyward.

NASA is doubling the number of film cameras, Oliu said, to give the final inspection team more perspective on how a craft is faring. 'If we see something on one film, we like to identify it on another film so we can pinpoint it in 3-D space,' Oliu said.

NASA plans to replace the video cameras, which encapsulate images in the aging National Television System Committee standard, with high-definition digital cameras. NTSC's frame rate is about 30 frames per second, whereas high-definition formats can reach 60 fps. When analysts slow footage to a frame-by-frame crawl, those extra frames can fill in crucial information, Oliu said.

'Things go by so fast that if anything came off the vehicle, it would probably be a blur,' Oliu said. 'Just 30 fps would not be enough to capture anything of much usefulness.'

Increased video resolution will help, too, Oliu said. Film has higher resolution than video but takes extra time to retrieve and develop. 'We have to make improvements in video quality for the short-term analysis of images. The faster we know what happens with the vehicle, the more time we have to work the problem,' he said.

The Kennedy Center bought a $4 million SGI video streaming system with 12 processors, 12G of RAM and 36T of storage to run multiple videos simultaneously, in synchronization. The system can output video in multiple formats, such as MPEG.

'Instead of having people teleconference across the country so we can try to explain what we saw, now we can scan it at very good resolution and show them,' Oliu said.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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