NASA may be able to launch the Space Shuttle at night after all. The restrictions called for by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) on launching the Space Shuttle in darkness, to ensure comprehensive photographic coverage of the craft on its flight to orbit, may be overcome by using modified Boeing B-57 high-altitude aircraft flying either side of the Shuttle. The aircraft would film the liftoff and the first two minutes of flight during the solid rocket booster burn. The technique could be tested during the planned daylight launches when flights resume, possibly in late 2004. Launching in daylight only would impose five-minute launch windows for flights to the International Space Station, significantly reducing launch opportunities. Analysis of photographic and film coverage of the launches will be considerably improved using state-of-the-art scanners and computers.

Source: Flight International