High-Def Shuttle

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently took delivery of 30 Panasonic AK-HC900 high-definition video cameras to monitor the launch of Discovery this May as the space shuttle program finally returns to flight after the Columbia disaster just over two years ago. A number of the cameras will be positioned at two launch pads in shielded enclosures close to the orbiter to provide NASA with real-time, high-definition images of the launch for scientific-image analysis as well as vehicle-safety and status assessment.

Fourteen AK-HC900s will be equipped with specialized long-focal-length optics and positioned on the perimeter of the Kennedy Space Center to track the ascent of Discovery. These cameras will provide images for mission flight analysis during the critical first three minutes of the orbiter's ascent.

To monitor the shuttle's progress at higher altitudes, additional AK-HC900s will be mounted in the nose sections of high-altitude research airplanes. These cameras will be equipped with specially designed gyro-stabilized optics developed at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. This "in-the-nose" video system will provide ascent imagery from 60,000 feet to near-Earth orbit.

The 3.9-pound AK-HC900 captures images with a resolution of 1280x720 at 60 progressive frames per second using three 2/3" CCDs. Hopefully, NASA will make some of these images available to the public; if all goes well, it will be a splendid documentation of the space shuttle's triumphant return to flight, and it should look spectacular on any good high-definition display.