Utah State's SDL Launches Rocket to Study Bowshock Heating

June 12, 2003

LOGAN, Utah - The interaction of the upper atmosphere with high-speed vehicles such as missiles and the space shuttle will be better understood because of data captured by a sounding rocket successfully launched June 10.

Utah State University's Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) - under contract to the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center San Diego (SSC San Diego) and in partnership with the Army Research Office (ARO), Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, and Pennsylvania State University - launched the Dual-mode Experiment on Bowshock Interactions (DEBI) from NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia.

"I have worked on DEBI for nearly five years," said Carl Howlett, program manager at SDL and principal investigator for the launch. "I was very pleased to see it perform the way it did; it was essentially a flawless measurement."

The five-year, $2.3 million project was funded by the Missile Defense Agency's (MDA) Advanced Systems Directorate and managed by SSC San Diego. The data is important to MDA because when a ground-based missile interceptor is launched, it flies at high speeds and reaches high altitudes, creating bowshock heating, or heating in front of the nose cone. The high temperatures the interceptor experiences could ultimately blind the sensors used to guide it.

"The information provided will be used to understand the environment that future higher speed interceptors will have to operate in and verify that they will still perform properly at these higher speeds and at those temperatures," said Mike Lovern, project manager at SSC San Diego. "I am excited that DEBI was successfully launched after so much hard work and that it appears, after initial review, we have collected more data than anticipated."

DEBI is studying bowshock heating that occurs as high-speed vehicles traveling over 7,000 miles per hour enter or re-enter the atmosphere 25-50 miles above the Earth's surface. Howlett said this is the same atmospheric region where the Space Shuttle Columbia's accident occurred.

Lovern said that NASA might also be interested in this information for its programs. He said the hope is that the data will validate the models they are currently working on to provide information for both the Department of Defense and NASA.

"The most important aspect is to collect data so we can design a future interceptor that has a faster velocity and longer range than is currently possible," said Lovern.

The instrument suite hosted more than 30 individual sensors. Most of the sensors were infrared (IR) with two ultraviolet (UV) sensors. SDL provided payload systems engineering, fabrication, integration, testing and launch support.

"This has been a great project to work on," said Howlett. "I look forward to moving on to similar projects in the future."