Engineers from NASA have developed a new type of sounding rocket technology with the potential to allow for enhanced capabilities. The new avionics technology, which focuses on distributed payload communications, could provide the power needed to obtain simultaneous multi-point measurements — a capability that researchers have never had before.
This technology could allow scientists to deploy small sub-payloads via sound rockets at multiple different altitudes. From there, onboard miniaturized instruments would be ready to gather multi-point measurements simultaneously in real-time. The main payload would theoretically be equipped with a distributed payload communications radio receiver, which would be programmed to collect the sub-payload’s data. Finally, it would multiplex the assorted data into one data stream, which would then be sent to waiting ground stations.
Although current sounding rocket technology is extremely advanced, it hasn’t been able to study multiple regions of space simultaneously — until now. The new technology would help to simplify both data gathering as well as payload tracking, turning the simultaneous tracking of different regions of space into a reality.
Engineers are keen to test out the new technology in action and observe how each step of the process goes forward. According to scientists, the launch doors should open within two minutes of the rocket lifting off. Two sub-payloads will be deployed; the sub-payloads have been equipped with an assortment of instruments, and are expected to travel about 200 miles per second on their journey to a position nearly 12 miles away from the main payload. As they travel across the sky, the sub-payloads will take measurements of Earth’s upper atmosphere, recording any physical phenomena that cross their paths.
Once this has been completed, two additional sub-payloads will be deployed. These will contain other instruments, which will focus on studying thermal-ion plasma, and travel approximately 10 miles per hour. The second set of sub-payloads will end up in a position about two miles away from the main payload. After the sub-payloads have ejected, they will send information to the main payload at a rate of roughly one megabits per second. Experts estimate that the sub-payloads will be able to get about four solid minutes of data before they reenter the atmosphere. Once it has gathered information from the various sub-payloads, the receiver affixed to the main payload will compile the data and send it to a telemetry station for further study.
After the launch, engineers hope to further streamline and improve the system behind their sounding rocket technology. The data they receive from the payloads — and how they receive it — will help to inform the next generation of sounding rocket research.