Findings & Concerns

Meeting of December 16, 1998
Sounding Rocket Working Group
National Aeronautics and Space Administration



The Sounding Rocket Working Group (SRWG) looks forward to working with the NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contractor (NSROC) at Wallops to both maintain, as well improve, the high quality research opportunities that the sounding rocket program affords the nation. The introduction of the NSROC system is an opportunity to move in new directions and we look forward to an exciting new era for the program.

The SRWG appreciated the opportunity to meet the new NSROC contractor, Litton/PRC, at its last meeting and learn of its general intended implementation plans. We look forward to increased dialogue with Litton/PRC and its subcontractors at future meetings. Furthermore, it is our position as users that the SRWG should be as proactive as possible in order to insure that the rocket program continues to thrive and produce low-cost, high quality science under the new arrangement.

Despite an optimistic outlook, the SRWG does have a number of concerns about how the new operations will be carried out, as we have stated in previous findings. Rather than re-iterate those concerns here, for now we state our most important, chief concern: that the number of successful sounding rocket missions launched per year not decrease under the new system. We urge Wallops, NASA Headquarters, and NSROC to work together to maintain a robust annual flight rate of highly successful scientific missions.

2. Civil Service Support at Wallops

The SRWG continues to be alarmed by the decrease of civil servant personnel retained in the Sounding Rocket Program Office at Wallops. This office must be maintained with strong leadership and highly qualified, knowledgeable, experienced personnel. In this manner, civil servant, agency "insight" into the program will remain a viable concept. It appears to us that there are far too few people left in the program office. We urge NASA to maintain at least one civil servant for every major system: vehicles, ACS/fine pointing, ACS/course pointing, electrical, telemetry, mechanical, and dynamics. Although we are painfully aware of the effects of downsizing and reorganizations over the past few years by NASA, this is one area in which we believe the elimination of such civil servant knowledge will have grave consequences for the future of the program. If the Agency is to maintain insight into the NSROC process, take a leadership role in advancing new technologies, and properly evaluate Sounding Rocket programmatic activities from the technical and operations viewpoint, such expertise must be maintained on the civil servant side with a strong cadre of highly experienced, technical personnel at Wallops.

3. ACS Systems

The SRWG continues to devote a large portion of its time to the evaluation and recommended improvements of the attitude control systems (ACS) used for both fine-pointing astronomy and solar payloads as well as for coarse-pointing space physics payloads. With the introduction of NSROC, it is clear that some of the former key ACS personnel (both civil servants and contractors) are no longer involved. Consequently, new plans must be made to not only ensure that the same capabilities are maintained, but also to improve the ACS systems so that they still enable first-rate scientific research to be carried out.

As discussed at the last SRWG meeting, the SRWG has agreed to work with Wallops and NSROC to involve community input to set technical specifications for future fine and coarse pointing ACS systems. The SRWG is forming subcommittees of scientific users (comprised of both committee members and other users) for both the ACS fine-pointing and ACS coarse-pointing systems to assist with this process. Attitude systems in general should also be included in these reviews. We propose that these subcommittees meet separately with Wallops/NSROC personnel. We also request that ACS systems be addressed by NSROC and Wallops personnel at the next SRWG meeting and encourage industry (subcontractor) participation in these discussions as well.

4. Code O/SOMO Operations Support

The SRWG has noted on several occasions its concern about the possible erosion of SOMO (previously Code O) support for the program, which is a major resource for the tracking and operations phase of all sounding rocket missions. Furthermore, we have been encouraged by both Wallops and NASA HQ personnel to help make sure that this support does not "fall through the cracks". We thus continue our vigilance by expressing our strong support such that SOMO resources are maintained at or above the current levels in order to insure that robust and viable operations support remains an integral element of NASA's Sounding Rocket Program.

NASA Sounding Rocket Working Group

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

Prof. David Burrows
The Pennsylvania State University

Prof. Greg Earle
University of Texas at Dallas

Prof. Paul D. Feldman
Johns Hopkins University

Dr. Mark Hurwitz
University of California, Berkeley

Prof. Timothy J. Kane
The Pennsylvania State University

Prof. Craig Kletzing
University of Iowa

Dr. Clarence Korendyke
Naval Research Laboratory

Dr. Fletcher Miller
NASA/Lewis Research Center

Dr. Alan Stern
Southwest Research Institute

Dean and Prof. Roy B. Torbert
University of New Hampshire

Prof. Edward C. Zipf
University of Pittsburgh