Advanced Imaging


Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: January 12th, 2011 09:49 AM CDT

High-Speed Parachute Deployment Imaging System for Space-Launch Vehicles

The high-speed parachute camera
The high-speed parachute camera undergoes vibration testing before installation.
The Ares I-X on the launch pad
The Ares I-X on the launch pad.
The internals of the high-speed parachute camera
The internals of the high-speed parachute camera (minus the batteries).

NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Space Systems Department (Huntsville, Ala.)

Imaging Challenge

Produce the first high-speed imaging system qualified to fly onboard a space launch vehicle in under 6 months. The system must withstand the extreme environments of a rocket launch, stage separation, and splash down. It also must be installed months before a moving launch date, and power up at an unknown launch time. The system must be self contained with no external power or external triggers.

The Solution

The integrated system is built around commercially available imaging hardware. This hardware is rated to 100 G shock loads. Higher shock loads will be seen during the Ares I-X flight. To withstand these loads, the system is isolated using elastomer pads to dampen the shock loads. The entire system is enclosed to meet stringent electromagnetic environmental requirements.

A g-switch and microcontroller are used to distinguish a true launch from false launch detections. The microcontroller monitors the g-switch to determine if it is closed for 3 seconds, marking a true rocket launch. If not, the system goes back into hibernation until the next g-switch closure. This low power operation conserves the system battery power. If the switch remains closed, the entire system powers up. A recording trigger is sent to the camera when a photovoltaic cell is illuminated. This occurs when the parachutes are deployed and the system is exposed to daylight for the first time in the flight.

The system records at a high frame rate during the parachute disreefing and continues recording at a decreased frame rate until splash down. After splash down the system downloads the recording to permanent memory and then automatically powers the system down.

The Tools Used

  • Camera: Vision Research Miro 3 modified by Vision Research for extreme environments
  • Lens: Visual Instrumentation Corporation—modified Uniqoptics Avatar Hi-g Lens
  • G-Switch: Inertia Switch, Inc 1.75 G Momentary Switch
  • Battery: Johnson Space Center Simplified Aid for EVA Rescue (SAFER) Space Flight Battery Pack.
  • Microcontroller: Analog Devices ADuC814

The Difference it Made

The High-Speed Parachute Camera will allow parachute designers to gain a better understanding of the deployment dynamics of the world's largest parachute. The high-speed imagery will provide improved analysis data compared to the present NTSC cameras which record the parachute deployment for Space Shuttle Flights. The same design will be used during parachute drop test in the months leading up to the Ares I-X flight.

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