USU fuels shuttle study

By Arrin Brunson
The Herald Journal
June 14, 2003

New technology launched by rocket earlier this week was developed in cooperation with the Utah State University Space Dynamics Laboratory.

The technology will produce data that could be used to help prevent disasters like the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Five years of work and $2.3 million paid off for scientists who successfully launched a rocket Tuesday that performed beyond expectations, according to SDL officials. SDL provided payload-systems engineering, fabrication, integration, testing and launch support for the project, according to a press release from SDL.

The "Dual-mode Experiment on Bowshock Interactions," or DEBI, used more than 30 individual sensors to gather data from outer space earlier this week when the project was launched from NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia, according to Carl Howlett, program manager at SDL and principal investigator for the launch.

Data was captured by DEBI in the same atmospheric region where the Space Shuttle Columbia's accident occurred, Howlett said.

That data will provide critical information about the interaction of the upper atmosphere with high-speed vehicles such as missiles and the space shuttle, he said.

DEBI will be used to study bowshock heating that occurs as high-speed vehicles traveling over 7,000 mph enter or re-enter the atmosphere 25 to 50 miles above the Earth's surface, Howlett said.

This project was funded by the Missile Defense Agency's Advanced Systems Directorate and managed by Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center San Diego.

The data is important to the Missile Defense Agency 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 implications for use by NASA are promising, scientists say, as the space agency might be interested in this information for its programs. The data gathered by the sounding rocket could also provide information for the Department of Defense.

"I have worked on DEBI for nearly five years. I was very pleased to see it perform the way it did; it was essentially a flawless measurement," said Mike Lovern, project manager at SSC San Diego.