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Aerospace Corp. Tracker System Launched

By | June 5, 2006

      An Aerospace Corp. launch hardware tracker (LHT) was launched from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., the company announced.

      It was lifted by the Prospector 7 sounding rocket developed by Garvey Spacecraft Corp. (GSC) and California State University, Long Beach (CSULB).

      Prospector 7 is a reusable rocket that is 23-1/2 feet tall. The LHT weighs 15 pounds. The little rocket that’s proving big things lifted the tracker system 4,100 feet above the Mojave test site, north of Edwards Air Force Base.

      An offshoot of a reentry breakup recorder (REBR) project at the corporation, the LHT was developed at Aerospace as part of a corporate Independent Research and Development (IR&D) project and uses repackaged REBR electronics with a dual-band antenna. The LHT is designed to provide tracking data for suborbital launch hardware from liftoff through reentry and impact.

      The LHT is a standalone, self-contained device designed to be attached to a launch vehicle to provide an independent path for data transfer. One objective of the device is to provide accurate information on the impact point of launch hardware. Another goal is to return information on the free molecular heating environment experienced by more robust launch systems.

      Internal sensors provide acceleration, body rotation rates, temperature, pressure, and global positioning satellite location information. External sensors can also be attached to the LHT and the data can be transmitted along with the LHT’s internal sensor data. Like REBR, the LHT provides the data via an Iridium telephone call. For this test, the receiving station was a computer at the Aerospace Colorado Springs offices, and the call was placed prior to launch.

      While aircraft have “black boxes” to record activity during flight, many rocket stages and payload fairings do not. The LHT’s mission is to provide data to enable control centers to pinpoint more accurately rocket hardware impact points. For example, mariners off Nova Scotia may be notified that a large area of sea may be possible sites for a rocket stage’s impact, and they need to stay out of a large footprint. The intent of the LHT is to be able to reduce the footprint of activity by being more exact regarding impact data. Since the device has a data recorder and transmitter, it can be used to collect and return other data of interest as well.

      Barring some initial technical problems, the LHT maintained a good link with the Iridium system throughout the flight, providing data from launch to impact and even afterward, when the unit was transported from the touchdown site back to the launch area.

      The test verified that the Iridium communications system can be used to return data from a launching vehicle and also verified the REBR electronics package in a flight environment.

      “Did we have challenges during the actual flight test?” said Dr. David Garza, Flight Mechanics in The Aerospace Corporation’s Vehicle Systems Division, who acted as payload director. “Yes, but it didn’t stop us. We were able to swap out a modem in real time and continue the mission.”

      The launch was supported by the Strategic and Developmental Planning Directorate of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC/XR). This launch provided SMC a pathfinder opportunity to address Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) being performed through its Generic Approach to Launch Transformation initiative. The pathfinder project examines a low-cost approach for operational small launch vehicles from austere locations. The goal is to reduce schedule and fiscal risk for future ORS development.

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