For human lunar exploration, NASA is relying on several major programs: The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), Space Launch System (SLS), Deep Space Gateway (DSG), Human Landing System (HLS), Exploration Ground Systems (EGS), and lunar surface systems. Each of these programs will utilize carefully designed engineering- and scientific-class imagery systems to monitor and analyze vehicle and system performance as well as support geologic exploration of the Moon. It is important to note that both the Challenger and Columbia accidents were initially detected and diagnosed with imagery. Engineering class imagery systems do far more than collect pretty pictures, they are carefully calibrated data acquisition systems capable of observing features and events beyond the ability of traditional instrumentation (strain gauges, temperature sensors, etc) to detect. ARES direct support to all these programs and activities comes in the form of Imagery Integration.
GROUND BASED TRACKING: Tracking platforms such as this are utilized on launch day at the Kennedy Space Center to monitor the liftoff and ascent of the integrated vehicle (SLS+Orion) and are specially designed to collect high-resolution long-range imagery in multiple formats (high speed, video, film, stills, etc.). Credit: NASA.
A question is often asked, "Why use cameras to make measurements? Why not just instrument the vehicle?" The key advantage of engineering imagery is capturing the unexpected events - the unknown unknowns. Returning to the examples of Challenger and Columbia, you could never have installed enough strain gauges, temperature sensors, or other means of collecting direct measurements in a cost effective way to catch every possible booster burn-through, debris release, or miscellaneous system anomaly. Cameras and high quality imagery systems allow you to collect time-correlated data over a wide range of locations on the vehicle. And to report all that information, Imagery Integration is the process by which a consolidated, systematic story - synthesizing all elements across a human mission - can be communicated to mission management.
MISSION SUPPORT: Imagery Integration is much more than a pre-flight planning effort. During the mission, imagery experts monitor vehicle operations, discuss potential anomalies, and report findings that may impact the success of the mission or safety of the crew to mission management. Credit: NASA.