Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Data is in on New Zealand's 1st Space Launch

Rocket Lab's January newsletter carried some details of the first data-set obtained from the Nov launch of their first ATEA-1 rocket conducted at Great Mercury Island.

Mindful of the famous one-liner from Big Bang Theory - ".....and this is why Sweden has no space program", back in November, I blogged about the launch of a sounding rocket to see if that constituted the commencement of New Zealand's space program.

Whilst the world contemplates the implications of the Obama administration's cancellation of the Ares V Constellation program, and we consider the pros and cons of Nation/State Vs Private Sponsorship, I thought it would be timely to see what news there is from New Zealand.

Following the Nov 2009 launch of the ATEA-1 (a bio-fuel, low carbon, patented design, sounding rocket), a commercial fishing boat recovered the stage one booster 17 klms offshore recovering a vast array of data that could be analyzed.

The Rocket Lab team reports - "we are still reviewing the data, but initial findings suggest that the booster was providing the expected thrust levels at launch and showing good, stable combustion for the full burn-time, consuming all available fuel. The recovered booster also confirms clean separation of the second stage. Calculations from the raw data obtained confirm that the vehicle was on course for a nominal trajectory to over 100 kilometres altitude".

The newsletter also provides an interesting insight into the nimble, clever design innovations that are achievable from small private space programs that can clearly tap brilliant skill-sets, respond to the actual needs of the market, and come up with scalable and customizable solutions for an expanding customer base.

In particular they are surprisingly open about the features of their Avionics Flight Computer (SRA) - "The unit is physically incredibly small, fitting within an envelope 50mm diameter x 150mm length. The weight of the unit is a mere 250 grams including batteries. The reduction in size and weight of the unit is critical for improving the performance of sounding rockets such as Ä€tea-1. The unit is designed and tested to MIL-109-E shock and vibration tests and can handle up to 80°C ambient temperature.

The hardware consists of a low-power 32-bit microcontroller with RS232 output port and auxiliary expansion ports. It has 16-bit data logging capability, with an in-built Inertial Measurement Unit consisting of 3-axis accelerometers, gyroscopes and magnetometers. Onboard GPS is standard and it is designed to interface with a number of telemetry options including the Iridium satellite network."

I resisted the temptation to photoshop in a blue adult molar - in the words of another Sheldonism (Big Bang Theory) "...everything is better with blue-tooth" and that seems like the only thing that is missing. Perhaps in the executive model?

So AARTScope visitors, we await the next installment of the Rocket Labs success story, or as I like to think of it as - the New Zealand Space program. Clearly there is a much greater role for private space programs and sponsors as NASA maintains is game face in its latest Ares quarterly report.

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