The Super Strypi rocket conducted its maiden flight and the first orbital launch from
Barking Sands launch site on Tuesday – following numerous delays. However, the rocket, carrying a collection of small satellites into orbit as part of the ORS-4 mission for the Department of Defense, suffered a failure around a minute into first stage flight.
Developed by a partnership of Sandia National Laboratories, Aerojet Rocketdyne and the University of Hawaii, the Super Strypi – which is also known as the Spaceborne Payloads Assist Rocket Kauai, or SPARK – forms part of the Low Earth Orbiting Nanosatellite Integrated Defense Autonomous System (LEONIDAS) program to develop a low-cost system to place small payloads into orbit for the US Department of Defense at relatively short notice.
The test flight is one of two planned to demonstrate the concept; however no operational missions are planned at present although the rocket has attracted interest from the private sector.
Tuesday’s launch, which coincidentally falls on the fifty-fifth anniversary of the first known rocket launch from Barking Sands, was the first orbital launch from the facility and from the state of Hawaii.
The Super Strypi launched Tuesday had evolved over time from the XM-33 Strypi military test rocket developed in the early 1960s and used in various configurations for military tests and scientific research missions over the next thirty five years.
Although now retaining nothing of the original Strypi vehicle, Tuesday’s launch revives the name of a line of rockets that were flown in 1997.
Consisting of a Castor core stage and two Recruit boosters, Strypi was originally designed to facilitate high-altitude nuclear testing; carrying a warhead into the upper atmosphere for detonation.
Following a successful maiden flight on 22 September 1962 and two more test flights over the next weeks, a Strypi was used for the CHECKMATE test on 20 October 1962 as part of Operations Dominic and Fishbowl.
Launching from Johnston Island, the rocket carried a modified low-yield W50 warhead to an altitude of 147 kilometres (91.3 miles) where it was detonated. This was the only nuclear test in which the Strypi was used, and the last detonation of a nuclear warhead in space by the United States.
After the Limited Test Ban Treaty was signed in 1963, banning above-ground nuclear testing, the Strypi was no longer required to carry experimental warheads, but was kept operational and made occasional test flights under the guise of re-entry vehicle tests in order to maintain a readiness for further nuclear tests should the need have arisen.
Additionally the Strypi began to be used for scientific and research missions. In all, thirty three were launched across thirteen different configurations. The most recent Strypi to fly, a Strypi XIIR, was launched from the Nevada Test Site on 4 October 1997.
The Super Strypi was first proposed in 1999 as an enlarged evolution of the Strypi XI sounding rocket.
Keeping the same three-stage configuration as its sounding rocket ancestor, the Super Strypi as originally designed would have consisted of a Castor-4XL first stage, an Orbus-7S second stage and a Star-30BP third stage – with two Terrier boosters providing additional thrust at liftoff. This was in contrast to the Strypi XI’s smaller Castor-1, Antares-2 and Star-27 stages and Recruit boosters.
Since the original proposal, the Super Strypi has been significantly redesigned, with the boosters eliminated and all of the core stages being manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne.
The first stage uses a LEO-46 motor, while the second and third stages of the Super Strypi utilize the LEO-7 and LEO-1 motors respectively.
All three stages burn ammonium nitrate blend (ANB) propellant; with the LEO-46 using 20,582 kilograms (45,376 lb) of a combination designated ANB-3745. The second and third stages use ANB-3790; carrying 3,232 kg (7,125 lb) and 650.9 kg (1,435 lb) respectively. The assembled rocket is 17 metres (55 feet) long, 1.5 metres (5 feet) in diameter and has a total mass at liftoff of 28,240 kilograms (62,260 lb).
Drawing heavily from is sounding rocket heritage, the Super Strypi uses spin stabilisation to provide passive guidance – with four fins on the tail of the first stage inducing a roll of approximately 2.5 revolutions per second that is aimed to keep the vehicle on track as it climbs towards space.
The first stage was set to burn for around 76 to 79 seconds, after which the rocket would coast towards the apogee of its suborbital trajectory.
However, live coverage of the launch showed the telemetry provide a view of the rocket spinning out of control. The feed then went blank. However, spectator video show what appeared to be a breakup event at the same time the telemetry portrayed an issue. Around an hour after launch, the mission was officially declared a failure.
A nominal ascent would have called for a coast phase to follow, with the spent first stage separating, along with payload fairing at the nose of the vehicle which is used to protect the satellites and third stage during the early stages of ascent.
As the vehicle approached apogee, the second stage would have begun its roughly 62-second burn. After another coast and separation, the third stage would have fired for 51 seconds to complete insertion into orbit.
The target orbit for Tuesday’s mission was a polar low Earth orbit with a perigee of 413 kilometres (257 statute miles; 223 nautical miles), an apogee of around 489 kilometres (304 miles, 264 nautical miles) and an inclination of 97.4 degrees.
Operating under the auspices of the Defense Department’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) office, Tuesday’s ORS-4 launch was tasked with carrying thirteen spacecraft with the primary payload being the University of Hawaii’s Hyperspectral Imaging and Aeronautical Kinematic Analysis Satellite, or HiakaSat.
This 55-kilogram (122 lb) spacecraft is principally geared towards technology demonstration and proving, however the satellite carries the Space Ultra compact Hyperspectral Imager (SUCHI) which will be used for remote sensing in support of geological research.
With a ground resolution of 220 metres (722 feet), the imager will record infrared spectra to support research into volcanic activity. Designed for at least a six-month mission, mission scientists are hopeful that the satellite will be able to operate for up to two years.
HiakaSat is a smaller version of the HawaiiSat-1 mission, which had originally been planned using a larger spacecraft with a heavier imager.
Mass constraints resulted in the size of the satellite being halved, with the spacecraft being renamed HiakaSat to distinguish it from the vehicle that had originally been planned.
Confusingly the mission the satellite was to fulfil was still designated HawaiiSat-1.
The remaining payloads aboard the ORS-4 mission were CubeSats, which were deployed via a NASA-developed Nanosatellite Launch Adapter System (NLAS) dispenser.
The largest, Supernova-Beta, is a six-unit satellite which will be operated by Pumpkin Incorporated.
Pumpkin, who produce CubeSat kits for assembly or use by other organisations including the National Reconnaissance Office, are using the mission to demonstrate their larger-size “Supernova” CubeSat platform as well as navigation, communications and attitude control systems.
The Space Dynamics Laboratory have their three-unit satellite STACEM aboard the Strypi. Designed for an environmental research mission, the spacecraft carries visible-light, infrared and hyperspectral imagers.
St Louis University’s Argus satellite and Montana State University’s PrintSat are both being carried as part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program, intended to provide access to space for University CubeSat missions, under the flight designation ELaNa-7.
Argus is a two-unit satellite consisting of a platform named SCARAB and a research payload named Independence, which will be used to update models of how electronics behave when exposed to radiation in the space environment. PrintSat is a materials research mission, using a spacecraft whose structural components were produced solely using 3D printing to determine how this is affected by exposure to space.
The remaining eight satellites comprised the Edison Demonstration of SmallSat Networks (EDSN) constellation, which is being flown by NASA’s Ames Research Center to investigate the value of distributing research across a group of smaller satellites. Each of the 1.5-unit CubeSats has a mass of 1.7 kilograms (3.7 lb) and is designed for sixty days of operations.
The satellites were built using off-the-shelf components centred around Samsung Nexus-S mobile telephones. EDSN will be used for a particle detection mission, with each satellite equipped with an instrument, the Energetic Particle Integrating Space Environment Monitor (EPISEM), with a Geiger counter to detect incident radiation.
In addition to its payloads – all now lost – the launch was also to serve as a test for the ORS office’s Autonomous Flight Safety System, or AFSS, which is intended to help reduce launch costs and support requirements for future missions by providing a means for a rocket to detect failures and self-destruct without the intervention of the range safety officer.
For Tuesday’s launch the AFSS was used for demonstration only, and did not have any control over flight termination.
Thursday’s launch made use of Pad 41 at the Pacific Missile Range Facility’s Barking Sands launch site on Kauai, Hawaii. Part of the facility’s Kokole Point launch complex, at the southern end of the launch site, the pad was initially constructed for use by Nike and Terrier rockets.
The pad was active for seven years, between 1985 and 1992, supporting twelve suborbital launches.
Parts of the complex, including the launch tower, were previously located at California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, as part of Space Launch Complex 5.
This complex, which was originally part of the US Navy’s Point Arguello facility until its merger with the adjacent Vandenberg in 1964, was used to launch sixty nine Scout rockets between 1962 and 1994. Named Launch Complex D until Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex numbering was introduced in 1967, the pad was used to launch a number of scientific and technological research missions, as well as parts of the DMSP military weather satellite program and the US Navy’s Transit navigation constellation.
The final mission from the complex – and for the Scout family of rockets – flew in May 1994, carrying the Miniature Sensor Technology Integration 2 (MSTI-2) defence research satellite. Following this launch, SLC-5 remained dormant for fifteen years. In 2009, the US Air Force were reported to be considering the demolition of the facility, with a subsequent decision made to use components for the Super Strypi pad at Barking Sands.
The Barking Sands facility on Kauai was first constructed as a private airfield in the 1920s, subsequently being taken over the US Army for use during the Second World War. In 1954, the facility became Bonham Air Force Base and in 1958 construction of the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) commenced.
The air base and missile facility were transferred to the US Navy in 1964, under the PMRF name. Regulus cruise missiles were tested from the site in the 1950s, with the first rocket launches being a weather research mission on 3 November 1960, which made use of an Arcas rocket.
Nike rockets were launched from Kauai in July 1962 to study the fallout from the STARFISH Prime nuclear test, and since then over two hundred scientific research and military demonstration missions have been launched from the site. Around two thousand medium-altitude Rocketsonde weather rockets also flew from Barking Sands between 1969 and 1992.
In recent years, Kauai has been used for missile defence tests, with target missiles launching from the island either for tracking tests, or to be intercepted by missiles launched from the island, from ships nearby, or by interceptors launched elsewhere.
In this capacity, the Barking Sands launch site has supported the development of the THAAD and Aegis anti-ballistic missile programs. In 2007, the PMRF supported Operation Burnt Frost, which used an SM-3 missile to destroy the failed USA-193 (NROL-21) satellite in orbit; with the missile itself launching from the USS Lake Erie, several hundred miles northwest of Kauai.
The Super Strypi’s maiden flight was the sixty-sixth orbital launch attempt of 2015, including February’s Vega launch whose upper stage briefly achieved orbit during post-mission testing after a successful suborbital primary mission, and was not catalogued. It is the eighteenth launch to be made by the United States this year.
A second Super Strypi launch is expected to occur at an undetermined future date – possibly in 2016 – and no other launches are currently planned beyond the second mission, which will mark the end of the present experimental program.
(Images via U.S. Air Force, NASA, Aerojet RocketDyne and various – via Spaceflightnow.com and satellite images via various through www.space.skyrocket.de)