Findings & Concerns

Meeting of January 14, 2004
Sounding Rocket Working Group
National Aeronautics and Space Administration


I.  Technology Roadmap  --  Timeline and Priorities

The Sounding Rocket Working Group continues to be encouraged by the Technology Roadmap developed by the Sounding Rocket Program Office (SRPO) at Wallops.   We are confident that such new technological thrusts will advance important new avenues for scientific exploration, discoveries, and understanding.  Major items on the list that hold particular promise include the High Altitude Sounding Rocket, the Oriole rocket, the mesosphere dart-like payload, and the ability to routinely carry out recovery of high altitude telescope payloads at Wallops. 

What is not at all clear, however, is how the timelines and priorities for these particular technology initiatives are established.  How is it decided which of these so very useful new technology items will be done first?  In fact, it is not clear how a cost benefit analysis might be conducted to articulate the trade studies to both the users and general science community.  Certainly, some discussion of this point is needed.

We envision that the items on the Technology Roadmap might be divided into three categories: 

1)  General technology items needed to maintain the present payload and operational capabilities.

2)  New technology items which are of modest cost and which can generally be covered within the annual program resources available for new technology.

3)  New technology items for which augmentation of new funds is needed and for which the timescale for development requires an investment  over several years.

Certainly for item 1, we presume the SRPO will continue to invest its resources soundly to maintain the present capabilities.  It would appear that here, the role of the SRWG is to provide input and feedback on such developments.  Items 2 and 3, however, represent areas where there is significant “trade space” and where the SRWG believes it could provide meaningful input, particularly as the working group represents the larger user community.  For some trades, particularly where new resources are needed, we note that the NASA HQ Science Advisory committees will also be consulted. 

To summarize, we would like clarification on how the timelines and priorities are established for the work to carried out on the SRPO Technology Roadmap.  In particular, we urge that communication channels be established for user input on the “big ticket” items, both from the SRWG representing the user community as well as from the greater scientific community which NASA’s sounding rocket program serves.


II.  “Telescope” Payload Recovery at Wallops

The SRWG appreciates the response from the SRPO to our finding from the June, 2003 meeting in which we discussed the need to develop technologies to provide for the recovery of high flying rockets from Wallops.  However, the response focused on innovative air recovery and mentioned that advanced, new water recovery techniques for heavy, high flying payloads could not be funded until 2009.  We note that Wallops presently can routinely carry out water recovery of standard, 17 inch geophysics payloads launched from Wallops.  We thus feel the need to revisit the previous finding with an emphasis on developing capabilities for water recovery of such “modest” payloads that carry astronomy/planetary/solar telescopes instead.  Since these telescope payloads already include protection for land re-entry, what would it take to adapt them for water recovery?

As stated in our previous finding, this effort would have both near and long term benefits. In the near term, recovery of telescope payloads at Wallops would enable the use of Black Brant and Oriole delivery systems, with high flying performance envelopes that preclude their use at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR).  This would allow an immediate factor of two gain in observing time over that of astronomy/solar payloads currently launched on BBIX's.  In the long term, such systems could then serve as a model for the development of a recovery technology for High Altitude Sounding Rocket (HASR) payloads.

The SRWG encourages NSROC and the Sounding Rocket Project Office to rapidly mature the development of recovery systems for telescope-borne payloads for flights from the Wallops Flight Facility.


III.  High Altitude Sounding Rocket

The SRWG once again salutes the Sounding Rocket Program Office for their continued efforts to develop the High Altitude Sounding Rocket (HASR).  As discussed previously, such a vehicle would provide a significant new science exploration tool, both because of its higher altitude (and thus longer flight time) and because of its larger diameter.  The SRWG realizes that circumstances beyond the control of Wallops limit the pace of development.  Nonetheless, the SRWG strongly believes that a robust, innovative sounding rocket program depends on bringing new capabilities, such as the HASR, to fruition and urges Wallops to continue their efforts to develop the HASR at whatever pace resources will allow.


IV.  Payload Events Set by GPS

The SRWG congratulates NSROC and the Sounding Rocket Program Office for bringing the GPS event module into service as quickly as it has.  The module has great promise for improving the efficiency and accuracy of observations across a wide variety of disciplines.  It will allow experimenters to more precisely coordinate their observations and instrument actuation, recovery system initiation, etc. with the actual rocket trajectory, which, in turn, provides for more efficient use of the flight time available.  For example, rather than setting events that rely on the predicted altitudes (either for upleg or downleg) of the 2-sigma high and low nominal trajectories, the GPS event module will enable the events to occur precisely at the desired altitude, regardless of the dispersion in the actual flight profile.  In many cases, this could afford up to 30 seconds (or even more) of additional observation time.  We look forward to the widespread implementation of such event timers in the near future.


V.  Sounding Rocket User’s Guide

The SRWG strongly suggests that the Sounding Rocket Program Handbook be updated more frequently.  The version of the Handbook currently available on the Wallops web site was last updated in July 2001, and some parts of the document may be even older.  We feel that the Handbook is a valuable reference tool, since it provides an essential resource on all technical and operational aspects of the program, and in particular, provides important orientation information for new experimenters.  The document also serves as a reference for more experienced experimenters, for example as new technology (e.g., the new GPS timer) becomes available and various sub-systems, such as attitude sensors and ACS systems, are improved.  To this end, we suggest that examples of actual flight sub-system data, such as attitude information and verification, be provided in the handbook, with a discussion of the actual accuracies attained.  To this end, the SRWG would be willing to provide feedback and work with NSROC to delineate those portions of the handbook that the users believe are most urgently in need of updates.


VI.  Support for Studies of Proposal Submission Trends

The SRWG heard a presentation from a member of a “Task Force” commissioned in coordination with the NASA HQ Geospace Scientific Advisory Working Group (i.e., the Geospace MOWG) that discussed a planned analysis of trends in the number of proposal submissions over the years in that discipline.  Because geospace investigations form a significant component of the sounding rocket program, trends in geospace participation and interest, reflected to some degree in numbers of proposals submitted, have a very large impact on both short-term and long-term strategic and logistic planning for the entire sounding rocket program.  Therefore, the SRWG maintains a keen interest in the ongoing discussion of such trends in not only geospace, but also all disciplines served by the program.

Furthermore, as the SRWG represents the greater scientific user community for the program, we stand ready to support the efforts of this (and any other) task force in any way needed, particularly should input be requested on how proposals might be motivated by technical and operational factors that might influence the rate of proposals submitted to NASA HQ.  For example, such factors might include the availability of high performance launch vehicles, launch ranges, foreign campaigns, new sub-systems such as high telemetry rate systems, the ability for Wallops to fly complex payloads including multiple payloads, etc.  The SRWG encourages all efforts to elucidate such trends through polling members of the science community.


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
of Wisconsin

Dr. James LaBelle
Dartmouth College

Dr. Gerald Lehmacher
Clemson University

Dr. Dan McCammon
University of Wisconsin

Dr. Doug Rabin
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Dr. Charles Swenson
Utah State University