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Boulder Colorado firm's camera will be aboard shuttle

CrossLink developed external tank camera for NASA

By J. Adrian Stanley, For the Camera October 2, 2002

A Boulder company is shooting for the stars with a new camera it created to hook onto the outside of the space shuttle Atlantis.

CrossLink Inc. will launch its external tank camera for the first time { on a Space Shuttle flight } when Atlantis takes off this week, headed for the international space station. The 6-inch-long camera will film the ascent of the shuttle for about 30 minutes. During this time, the shuttle will reach near-orbital speed and travel 70 miles above the earth.

NASA postponed the launch Tuesday because of Hurricane Lili and has tentatively rescheduled it for Thursday.

Dwayne Brown, a NASA spokesman, said the view from CrossLink's camera will be one that has never been captured before. "It's almost like you're ... in the cockpit looking down," he said.

Michael Carpenter, vice president of engineering for CrossLink, said this camera comes after a number of other cameras the company developed to put on launch vehicles for companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The difference with this one is that it is external.

Carpenter said the major problem with putting an external camera on a shuttle is that heat and vibration are extremely high as the shuttle exits the atmosphere. The camera needs to withstand these conditions.

"What we (do) is we buy a commercial camera and we take it apart ... and find out its weak spots," he said.

The company uses vibration tables on cameras until they break and then strengthens the camera according to what breaks. Heat is averted by wrapping the camera in aerospace materials and putting a quartz window over the lens.

"Quartz is very good in a thermal environment," Carpenter said.

Carpenter said that although companies always have engineering reasons for wanting a camera on their launch vehicles, NASA is probably using the camera to capture the visual effects of the ascent.

"I think the real reason is the 'wow' factor," he said.

CrossLink recently sold its camera product line to Eclyptic, a company based in Pasadena, Calif. CrossLink will no longer manufacture cameras.

"It just wasn't in line with the rest of what we were doing," Carpenter said. "That was aerospace work — it had nothing to do with commercial production."

CrossLink currently is working on a variety of other products including sensors that go inside the tires of semis and electronically monitor the temperature and pressure inside the tires, and wireless asset tracking & telemetry systems, he said.
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