SDL-built camera part of Endeavour's cargo

By Kevin Opsahl
The Herald Journal
May 17, 2011
People watch the launch of space shuttle Endeavour

Credit: Jennifer Meyers/Herald Journal
People watch the launch of space shuttle Endeavour as it lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Houston via live broadcast at the Space Dynamics Lab on Monday. The shuttle is carrying a Digital Imaging Space Camera, or DISC, that was built by SDL engineers.

NORTH LOGAN - Employees at Utah State University's Space Dynamics Lab watched in awe as space shuttle Endeavour thundered into the clouds at 13,500 miles per hour.

The SDL crew watched the lift-off, which occurred at 6:56 a.m. Mountain Standard Time on Monday, via live streaming video on NASA's website. For Doug Lemon, president of USU's Research Foundation, and others, the sight of seeing a shuttle launch never gets old.

"Perfect launch, wasn't it?" Lemon said to SDL employees. "Flawless - that's the way we like it."

SDL officials had reason to celebrate Monday morning because a piece of equipment they built - a Digital Imaging Space Camera, or DISC - was flying with an experienced crew of five Americans and an Italian to the International Space Station.

The astronauts were flying on Endeavour's final mission.

A technology developed years ago, the DISC is designed to take pictures of the stars and atmosphere. It is a technology used for missions that require more stringent pointing knowledge than is currently available on extremely small satellites. SDL contracted with the U.S. Navy for the project.

"This is just one more of those many pieces of equipment that we're excited about having on the space station," said Niel Holt, SDL director.

The flight demonstration unit weighs less than 1 kilogram and includes a 35-millimeter lens that's no different from most professional cameras.

"We designed, built and tested DISC at the SDL facilities to ensure that it would survive and function in the harsh environment of space," said Quinn Young, SDL manager of satellite technology.

The DISC that is flying up with Endeavour is essentially a smaller, more efficient model of previous DISCs that have gone up into space. The hardware is literally folded to fit inside a cube; its smaller size means it can be manufactured quicker to get into orbit, according to Young.

Monday's shuttle launch with the accompanying DISC is considered by SDL officials to be another victory in space. SDL has designed, fabricated and operated nearly 500 payloads, including shuttle experiments, small satellites and satellite-based sensor systems.

Astronauts on Endeavour will arrive at the orbiting outpost Wednesday, delivering a $2 billion magnetic instrument that will seek out antimatter and dark energy in the universe.

The end to the space shuttle program in July does not compromise SDL's ability to get projects into space; the lab has used other launch vehicles, including some made in Russia, to get experiments into space and to the International Space Station.

"We have enjoyed the long legacy of the shuttle program," Holt said. "SDL will continue to pursue whatever launch resources are available, including commercial launch opportunities, to get experiments in space."

For many at SDL, there was a feeling of personal satisfaction knowing that Commander Mark Kelly had decided to go on the mission as his wounded wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, watched. Giffords was shot in the head in January after a gunman opened fire on a meet-and-greet constituent event in Tucson, Ariz.