Press Release

NASA Langley’s SCIFL Team to Take Images of SpaceX C2 Launch

By SpaceRef Editor
May 15, 2012
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HAMPTON, Va. – A team from NASA’s Langley Research Center will have its eyes, cameras and telescopes trained on the skies for the launch of the first commercial spaceflight carrying cargo to the International Space Station.

The SCIFLI (Scientifically Calibrated In Flight Imagery) team, based at NASA Langley, is preparing to capture visual and thermal snapshots of the SpaceXlaunch as the Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon capsule climb through the atmosphere on their way to the ISS. The launch is scheduled for Saturday, May 19.

The team will have sophisticated optical systems stationed on the ground in northern Florida and for the first time ever on board a ship, the Freedom Star. The Freedom Star and its sister ship, Liberty Star, originally built to recover space shuttle solid rocket boosters, will also monitor thespacecraft during the mission using NASA diagnostic radar systems. Both ships will be off the coast of the northeastern United States. They are normally home ported at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station adjacent to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“We’re looking at getting very high spatial resolution, high definition quality visual imaging during the launch as well as high spatialresolution thermal imaging from an infrared camera,” said Tom Horvath, SCIFLI principal investigator at NASA Langley.

NASA contracted with Celestial Computing Incorporated in Boston, Mass., to equip the Freedom Star with a special gyro-stabilized tracking mount and hardware – turning the ship into a floating high-tech radar, camera and long-range telescope platform.

“This ship-based imaging capability is unique,” said Horvath. “NASA does not possess a shipboard gyro-stabilized tracker with the large aperture/long focal length optics coupled to state-of-the-art detectors.”

NASA will train the two imaging systems at the spacecraft to help monitor its performance and capture key events during ascent, including release of the Dragon capsule and solar panel deployments. This will be the first use of a ship-based high definition visual and infrared imaging system to support Commercial OrbitalTransportation System (COTS) project flights. The COTS project is part of the Commercial Crew and Cargo Program, led out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

This may be the first time NASA Langley has used a ship to try to capture images of a spacecraft in flight, but it’s not the first time the SCIFLI team has trained its sites on fast moving objects. The SCIFLI team builds upon the success of what used to be the Hypersonic Thermodynamic Infrared Measurements (HYTHIRM) team, which has had a history of capturing challenging thermal images at speeds as high as Mach 18. The project successfully recorded the space shuttle heat signature during re-entry on seven different Shuttle missions, using ground and airborne systems.

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SpaceRef staff editor.