Findings & Concerns

Meeting of June 26, 2003
Sounding Rocket Working Group
National Aeronautics and Space Administration


I. Oriole Launch Vehicle Development

The Sounding Rocket Working Group is following with great interest the development of the Oriole launch vehicle.  A Terrier-Oriole configuration launched from White Sands Missile Range could provide significantly (~30%) longer time at altitude for astrophysics and solar physics payloads as compared with Black Brant configurations.  Of added importance, the Oriole could also accommodate larger-diameter payloads (up to 30 inches) and therefore larger telescopes.  Such telescopes would enable new scientific investigations because of their ability to study faint cosmic sources or time-variable solar activity at high, and in some cases unprecedented, angular resolution. The expanded range of potential investigations could be expected to attract new investigators to sounding rocket science, which has long been limited by the performance of Black Brant vehicles.

The Sounding Rocket Working Group would like to understand better the Oriole development plan and how it interacts with other programs such as the High Altitude Sounding Rocket.  For example, has definite funding been identified to develop the necessary supporting systems such as boost guidance and fine pointing for 30-inch payloads, thrust termination, and recovery?  Has funding been identified for an initial motor buy?  What is the potential impact on the flight rate of existing configurations?  When is it anticipated that investigators will be invited to propose payloads for the Oriole?  While the Working Group recognizes the many uncertainties involved, a nominal schedule would stimulate research groups to conceive new experiments and carry out preliminary studies so that, when the vehicle is available, it will immediately attract both exciting and feasible scientific proposals.


II.  Nihka Motor Availability

The Sounding Rocket Working Group is alarmed to learn that Nihka motors are no longer being manufactured, and that Wallops' current inventory of these motors is only 10-12 units, of which 2-3 are already committed to funded missions.  Any NASA sounding rocket experiment with apogee above 1000 km currently requires a Nihka motor.  Further, the Nihka is the only motor currently used in the sounding rocket program that can burn exo-atmospherically.  This capability is required for any flight employing a complex trajectory in which the final stage and payload are reoriented prior to final stage ignition -- as was carried out successfully on the recent 35.034 Conde/HEX mission.  Since considerable ongoing demand is anticipated for high alitude payloads as well as those that re-orient their final stage, the Nihka capabilities are considered absolutely essential to the NASA Sounding Rocket Program.  Therefore, the SRWG strongly urges NASA/Sounding Rocket Program to either:

            (a)  Discuss with Bristol Aerospace their decision to cease manufacturing Nihkas;

            (b)  Identify and test an alternative off-the-shelf replacement for the Nihka;

(c)  Consider developing a new motor with Nihka-like capabilities.

The SRWG believes that it is imperative that a replacement for the Nihka motor be secured prior to the elimination of the current inventory at Wallops.


III.  Mesospheric Sounding Rocket

The SRWG strongly encourages Wallops to continue development of a Mesospheric Sounder, and are pleased that a suitable motor has been identified.  The mesosphere region (60-100 km) has long been identified as one in which the only means to gather in situ measurements is the sounding rocket, as noted in several previous findings of the SRWG. 

The Mesospheric Sounder represents a possible new direction in mesospheric studies towards coordinated experiments that study spatial and temporal variations in the mesosphere.  Such campaigns would consist of ground-based observations, satellite measurements, and/or complementary larger sounding rocket payloads launched in conjunction with in situ measurements gathered by multiple launches of Mesospheric Sounders.  In order to define potential experiments for the sounder, the science community needs information about the nominal performance specifications for these vehicles.  These include their nominal payload diameters (e.g., 4 to 6 inch), apogees for a nominal mass, how position or trajectory information as well as attitude information will be obtained and at what accuracy, power, ACS systems, to align the payload forward end either with the ram direction or the magnetic field direction, and the feasibility of a portable system with the capability of multiple launches over the course of a few hours.

The SRWG requests an update on the status of the vehicle procurement and flight testing, as well as nominal performance specifications for this new vehicle system.  We seek this information not only to determine how well the designated vehicle meets the desired performance criteria, but also to enable the community to prepare important and feasible experiments to propose when the vehicle becomes operational.

The SRWG would like information on the schedule for the development of the Mesospheric Sounder and looks forward to learning of plans for the initial vehicle flight tests.


IV.  Water and Air Recovery from Wallops

The Sounding Rocket Working Group underscores the clear and pressing need to develop as quickly as possible the technologies required to support the recovery of heavy, high flying payloads launched from the Wallops Flight Facility.  This effort would have both near and long term benefits, especially for payloads with high development costs as well as astronomy payloads.  In the near term, recovery of heavy payloads at Wallops would enable the use of  BBX, BBXI, and BBXII delivery systems, with high flying performance envelopes that preclude their use at WSMR.  This would allow an immediate factor of two gain in observing time over that of astronomy payloads currently launched on BBIX's.  In the long term, such systems could then serve as a model for development of a recovery technology for the High Altitude Sounding Rocket (HASR) payloads. 

The SRWG encourages NSROC and the Sounding Rocket Project Office to rapidly mature the development of either water or air recovery systems for high flying payloads with as much as 1000 lbs of reentry mass. 


V.  Launches from Wallops

The Sounding Rocket Working Group continues to be concerned about the difficulties of launching out of Wallops due to conflicts with various naval, commercial and recreational ships and boats.  Although we understand that Wallops has taken some steps to mitigate this problem, we would like further insight concerning how the range is controlled, who has authority over the range, and what sorts of obstacles and planning an experimenter might have to consider when developing a research program based on sounding rocket launches from Wallops.   

Thinking ahead, as water/and or air recoveries become a reality and the High Altitude Sounding Rockets come into use, we anticipate that more missions will be launched from the Wallops launch site.  This will put increasing demands on the launch availability of the WFF range.  We therefore seek to understand the current policies of the Wallops Launch Range and seek ways to improve these policies to optimize the use of the Wallops Flight Facility as a launch range in the future. 


NASA Sounding Rocket Working Group

Dr. Robert F. Pfaff, Jr. (Chair)
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Dr. Mark Conde

University of Alaska

Dr. Tim Cook
Boston University

Dr. Lynette Gelinas

Cornell University

Dr. Jim Green
University of Colorado

Dr. Walt Harris

University of Wisconsin

Dr. James LaBelle

Dartmouth College

Dr. Gerald Lehmacher

Clemson University

Dr. Dan McCammon
of Wisconsin

Dr. Doug Rabin
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Dr. Charles Swenson
Utah State University