NASA Partner Ecliptic ‘Gets The Shot’
WASHINGTON, D.C. — It was one of the few times that a crash landing would be deemed a success. On October 9, 2009, nine sensor instruments—including five cameras—onboard the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) watched closely as the Moon-bound spacecraft released the spent upper stage of its Centaur launch vehicle at the lunar surface. The instrument-bearing shepherding spacecraft beamed back video of the Centaur’s impact and then descended through the resulting plume, gathering data on the composition of the ejected material until it too impacted within a lunar crater. The mission yielded a wealth of information confirming what scientists had hoped for: the presence of water on the Moon.
A specially designed unit controlled, routed, and transmitted back to Earth the precious data gathered from all of LCROSS’ onboard instruments. The crucial control unit was the outcome of a collaboration between NASA’s Ames Research Center and a company whose products have benefited from this and other NASA partnerships.
A View from Above
Onboard video systems for rockets or spacecraft provide stunning footage of launches and space activities — valuable material for educating and inspiring interest in space exploration. But another significant benefit is the essential information these video feeds provide to engineers on the ground. While casual viewers get to experience a virtual ride into space, engineers can monitor and evaluate a rocket launch or the activity of a complicated mechanical device on a spacecraft.
In the aftermath of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, seeking ways to improve situational awareness for future shuttle launches, NASA examined the use of multiple onboard cameras. On the STS-114 Return to Flight mission, an external tank camera designed by Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation of Pasadena, California, captured the breakaway of a large piece of insulating foam. From that point until the fleet retired in 2011, the shuttles featured multiple camera systems mounted on the external tank and the solid rocket boosters.
Ecliptic RocketCam systems were also incorporated into multiple other NASA missions—including the Delta II rockets for the 2003 twin Mars Exploration Rover missions. To date, Ecliptic’s analog and digital RocketCam systems have been employed on more than 80 rocket launches and spacecraft missions for customers including NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense, and multiple aerospace companies. Ecliptic video systems also allowed the world to share the experience of Scaled Composite’s SpaceShipOne aircraft making the first-ever privately funded human space flight. The company’s systems are part of launches roughly every 4 to 6 weeks—with 8 to 12 in a typical year.
Recording the Future of Spaceflight
As NASA and commercial space partners develop new vehicles for traveling into low Earth orbit and beyond, Ecliptic expects to provide the video footage that will keep engineers apprised and the public in awe. Ecliptic systems are set to be incorporated on the Orbital Sciences Cygnus vehicle and Taurus II rocket, designed to ferry cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program.
Ecliptic is also enabling a major educational and public outreach project as part of the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft, launched to map the gravitational field of the Moon in late 2011. The GRAIL MoonKAM, composed of Ecliptic video systems on each spacecraft, allow students to schedule video recordings and retrieve the clips from NASA’s datastream for educational activities, hopefully inspiring a new generation of space explorers.
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Ecliptic Enterprises Providing Birds-Eye Views From Space
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Tags: Ames Research Center, Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program, COTS, COTS program, Cygnus spacecraft, Delta II rocket, Ebb spacecraft, Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation, Flow spacecraft, GRAIL MoonKAM, GRAIL-A, GRAIL-B, International Space Station, ISS, LCROSS, Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, Mars Exploration Rover, Moon, MoonKAM, NASA, NASA-Ames, Orbital Sciences, outer space, Rex Ridenoure, RocketCam, rockets, Scaled Composites, Space, Space Shuttle Columbia, spacecraft, spaceflight, SpaceShipOne, STS-14, Taurus II rocket