ARLINGTON, VA – The Columbia Accident Investigation Board today issued its fourth preliminary finding and recommendation to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in advance of its appearance in the final report.

Recommendation Four:

  • Upgrade the imaging system to be capable of providing a minimum of three useful views of the Space Shuttle from liftoff to at least Solid Rocket Booster separation, along any expected ascent azimuth. The readiness of these assets should be included in the Launch Commit Criteria for future launches.
  • Consideration should be given to using mobile assets (ships or aircraft) to provide additional views of the vehicle during ascent.


  • Imaging the Space Shuttle vehicle during launch and ascent provides necessary engineering data including the ability to examine the entire Space Shuttle system for any unexpected debris or other anomalies during ascent.
  • A variety of assets are already in place at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and on the Air Force Eastern Range (ER) to accomplish this task.

  • Ascent data from the optical assets at KSC and the ER are reported to the Mission Management Team in the days following the launch. A “quick look” report is available the day after launch, and a more detailed analysis is available within a few days. For the most part, engineering quality ground-based data is not available in real time.
  • During the STS-107 ascent, two ground-based long-range camera sites provided data that was usable for evaluating the foam strike against the vehicle. A third camera that would have provided a better view was unusable.


  • The current long-range camera assets on the Kennedy Space Center and Eastern Range are inadequate to provide best possible engineering data during Space Shuttle ascents.
  • Evaluation of STS-107 debris impact was hampered by lack of high resolution, high speed cameras (temporal and spatial imagery data).


  • The Space Shuttle is still a developmental vehicle, and engineering data from each launch is essential to further understand the vehicle.
  • Although numerous ground-base imaging assets are available, they are often inadequate to provide meaningful data to the program.
  • The ability to validate models on the effect of the TPS debris strikes has been hampered by the lack of high quality ascent image data.
  • The existing camera sites suffer from a variety of readiness, obsolescence, and urban encroachment (i.e., civilian buildings around the asset) problems.
  • The imaging systems have not been upgraded to reflect changes in launch patterns, primary azimuths associated with International Space Station support missions.