Vol 58 No. 2 : February, 2006
Vol 58 No. 2 : February, 2006
‘Prospector 7’ Takes Flight
Students from the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) Department at CSULB were among the members of a joint academic/industry/government team that conducted the successful launch, recovery, refurbishment and re-launch of a prototype reusable launch vehicle, Prospector 7, within a period of just 3.5 hours. It was a major improvement over the 26 hours needed to conduct two flights with a McDonnell Douglas DC-XA research vehicle nearly a decade ago.
The launch represented an important achievement in aerospace research at a time when more responsive launch capabilities have become a priority.
The launch was made possible by a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research contract to CSULB research partner Garvey Spacecraft Corporation (GSC) of Long Beach, from the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Propulsion Directorate branch at Edwards Air Force Base. It builds upon an on-going Nanosat Launch Vehicle development program that GSC and CSULB are conducting as part of the California Launch Vehicle Education Initiative (CALVEIN).
The Nanosat Launch Vehicle is intended to provide dedicated, primary launch services to small satellite developers and operators whose spacecraft have a mass of 10 kilograms (22 pounds) or less, a growing area of industry that cannot afford the expense or the lag time to launch their payloads on more traditional vehicles such as the space shuttle.
The purpose of CALVEIN, a partnership program directed by Eric Besnard, CSULB associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, is to help prepare the next generation of California-based engineers for the aerospace industry and provide MAE students with hands-on experience, while also supporting technology development to contribute to the next generation of low-cost launch vehicles.
In addition to evaluating reusable launch vehicle operations, the Prospector 7 project also provided flight opportunities for a number of university payloads, including a data logger from Montana State University and a prototype of the Poly-Picosat Orbital Deployer (P-POD) developed by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. These two experiments flew on both flights with the P-POD actually deploying a number of simulated “CubeSats.”
The CALVEIN team and AFRL are now updating their plans to reuse this hardware in future Nanosat Launch Vehicle-related flight testing. The next phase of testing presently envisions expanding the altitude and velocity objectives while still retaining response times and reusable technology.
“Over the years, CALVEIN has focused on pursuing an incremental development approach where each frequent test provides students and others an opportunity to learn and expand the envelope,” Besnard explained. “Here, launch vehicle developers, operators and payload developers from several universities came together and, with these two flights conducted with the same vehicle in a matter of hours, demonstrated that responsive operations are indeed possible. The next phase will focus on expanding the flight regime with the long-term objective of reaching orbit.”
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