Orlando, FL, April 7, 2004 - VideoRay announced today that Steve Van Meter, a hazardous duty robotics specialist at NASA, helped solve the mystery of the missing thrust reverser that fell from a training jet during a practice flight this past January. Using a VideoRay ROV (remotely operated vehicle), Van Meter positively identified the 585-pound reverser in five feet of muddy water in the Banana River, which runs by Cape Canaveral. The reverser was lost during the jet’s steep dive that simulates a shuttle's plunge toward a runway.
Van Meter sent the VideoRay into the water after a
metal detector and an Imagenex side-scan sonar system (www.imagenex.com) discovered the likely location of the reverser in five feet of water. The VideoRay
positively identified the reverser with its video camera, despite extremely poor visibility. The underwater robot’s
propellers do not stir up silt, which enabled Van Meter to visually identify the object (see photos online).
The VideoRay stayed with it until dive teams arrived an hour later. Recovery divers followed the VideoRay’s yellow tether to guide them in salty, low-visibility waters and several feet of mud. The dive team used airbags to float the reverser to the surface. A crane parked on the causeway bridge lifted the reverser to a truck (see photos online). According to the Spaceport News, an official publication of Kennedy Space Center, “the recovery team saved the Agency $110,000 by retrieving the part rather than hiring a salvage contractor that couldn’t guarantee a recovery in shallow water.”
Van Meter found the reverser when he extended the search area after new calculations, based on software used to predict the trajectory of rocks being thrown from a volcano, were conducted. He spotted it 30 minutes later at the center of the new search grid, where “x marked the spot,” says Van Meter. “As soon as we saw the target on the sonar screen, we knew we had found it.”
Van Meter became familiar with what the reverser target might look like underwater by scanning a 55-gallon drum before the search began. To keep track of his location, he used a hand-held GPS and downloaded coordinates to a PC so he could analyze the data on a map. Van Meter positively identified the reverser by entering it and capturing views of its exterior with the VideoRay.
Joe Gerky, NASA flight maintenance officer for the NASA Gulfstream 2 fleet, commented, “No question – the VideoRay was the only remotely operated vehicle that could enter the thruster. We were pleased to have the right tool to identify the thruster and assist divers in recovery.”
The VideoRay ROV "flies" like a remote control plane underwater and uses a high-resolution color video camera to capture underwater views, which are displayed for the operator on a topside monitor. The VideoRay requires less than 400 watts of 100-240VAC power and can be plugged into a standard wall outlet, a battery with inverter, or a small generator.