14 August 2006

Serendipitous Monday

Your humble scribe is on travel this week, gov'mint business and all, out in the land of real mountains. Posting may or may not be spotty (non-specific enough? There's plausible deniability for you), so here are a couple of items from around the blogsphere to chew on. Fear not, Flightdeck Friday is not in jeopardy...

The trip out -- well, I wasn't disappointed by American Airlines (Skippy's favorite) and adding an hour to check-in time turned out to be the right call, even at 0400...Oh, and yes, I did ask the rental agency if any GT350's were available, alas, the answer was no.

In the realm of the real:

The 'phibian has a couple of good ones today, one about bending over backwards by the mother island to not offend muslim sensativities and a an open letter from a shipyard worker to those who man and fight the fearless FFG-7s. Yeah, the scribe wore brown shoes, but the figs hold a soft spot in his heart, recalling the bad (good) ol' days when they accompanied the Scribe and the big(ger) guys to the far North to face down the Sovs. Fearless warriors that are starting to fall on hard times, material-wise.

And in the 'nether world of the unreal:

The BBC reports on one of the latest arrivals in the blogsphere (as Lex succinctly puts it -- there goes the neighborhood). If you are so moved to do so, do NOT go to the original site (the gouge is it is a viral haven) insead, checkout Slashdot's translation.

In anticipation of Flightdeck/FORD Friday, here's an interesting tidbit about aircraft launched satellites -- and you thought the F-15/ASAT or Pegasus were revolutionary?


Among the organizations tasked with meeting this challenge was the Naval Ordnance Test Station. Given the facility's expertise in developing weapons powered by small solid rockets and launched from aircraft, it is not surprising that the NOTS design built upon this experience. Though nicknamed NOTSNIK (or NOTSnik) for a combination of NOTS and Sputnik, the acronym was said to stand for Naval Ordnance Test Satellite and the program was officially known as Project Pilot. The vehicle was also referred to by the designation NOTS-EV-1.

Approved in early 1958, the project proceeded rapidly by relying on existing rocket motors and other components readily available. The NOTSNIK vehicle was carried aboard a Douglas F4D-1 Skyray fighter to a high altitude where its rocket motors were fired for the trip into orbit. The rocket was designed to be released while the F4D-1 was traveling at a speed of more than 450 mph (725 km/h) and in a 50° climb to a launch altitude of 41,000 ft (12,500 m). Upon release, the vehicle ignited the first of five rocket stages. Both the first and second stages included two HOTROC solid rocket motors derived from the booster used on the SUBROC anti-submarine rocket-boosted torpedo. The first stage rockets ignited three seconds after release from the parent aircraft and remained operational for just five seconds. Following a twelve second coast phase, the second stage pair of HOTROC motors ignited for another five second burn.

By the time the second stage exhausted, NOTSNIK had achieved an altitude of about 50 miles (80 km). Both the first and second stage structure was then jettisoned as the third stage ignited. Consisting of an ABL X-241 solid rocket, this stage burned for 36 seconds before the fourth stage motor ignited for a 5.7 second long burn. By now, the vehicle had reached a very low and extremely eccentric transfer orbit. The orbit was then stabilized into a more circular orbit by the fifth and final stage consisting of a NOTS 3-inch Spherical rocket motor.

This combination of rocket stages boosted by an air-launch platform had the capability to place a very small payload of just 2.3 lb (1.05 kg) into an orbit of 1,400 miles (2,250 km) altitude. The payload reportedly included a small infrared camera to take images of the ground or collect weather data and a transmitter to return signals to Earth. It was because of the potential use of this payload as a reconnaissance system that the entire project was classified top secret and remained unknown for such a long time

Did it work? Welll...

Of the six orbital attempts, four malfunctioned almost immediately when the NOTSNIK vehicle exploded shortly after ignition or the first stage failed to ignite and the rocket fell into the Pacific Ocean. Nevertheless, the fate of the first Skyray launch on 25 July and the third on 22 August was never conclusively determined. Both shots rapidly climbed out of view of the launch and chase aircraft but appeared to function properly. While either one might have reached orbit to become America's first satellite, radio communications were lost and the success of the satellite could not be confirmed. The only possible evidence of success came from a tracking station in Christchurch, New Zealand, that reported receiving a very weak radio signal during the 22 August launch at the times expected for the first and third orbits. However, these spurious signals most likely came from another source and most of those involved doubted that the NOTSNIK satellite actually achieved orbit.

Then there was Project CALEB, but that's for another time...