MICA rocket launch, part 4…

Over the last few days, the team at Poker Flat has made a lot of progress with the MICA rocket. We did hit a bit of a hiccup when we discovered on Monday that the installed GPS sensor on the rocket’s main payload was fried. The GPS is extremely important, as you can imagine, for the control and tracking of the rocket. This discovery was made during our initial payload “rollout”. A “rollout” means that we bring the payload (roughly the entire rocket) outside into the cold so that we can test the GPS signal and the transmission of data to and from the Telemetry building. Now of course it’s really cold, so we have to cover the rocket in lots of thermal blankets. You can see some pics below. During that time we also turned on the DERPAs to make sure the data showed that they were working properly. Everything looked good.  But even without the GPS we’ve been plenty busy with things.

On Tuesday, we tested the DERPA boom for the first time. The concept of the rocket payload is that once the rocket reaches space (a height at which it is clear of most of the atmosphere) the payload will be isolated and in free fall. At that point, small pyros (explosives) will be ignited, freeing all of the instruments that have been stowed on the main payload, safely tucked in beneath the nosecone. Once the pyros blow, the boom arms holding the instruments will be deployed. Of course, we need to test these booms before we launch to prove that the arm won’t break off. We tested the boom by deploying it at 45-degree angle and it latched very successfully, just as we planned. Here’s a link to a video of the deployment test.

Later in the day we went through a full sequence test. This is where we simulate an entire countdown and launch in the computers. Meaning, we don’t actually launch, but we do a countdown and turn the instruments on and off and deploy the booms at the correct times to make sure that the computers register all of the activity correctly. Everything went extremely well in the sequence test, yet another good sign.

The GPS failure was only a slight setback, the good folks back at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia sent us a backup and we finally got her installed yesterday (Wednesday). After that we had a sub-payload “rollout”, same procedure as we had on Monday for the main payload; everything on the sub (including the ERPA) worked nicely.

So as you can see everything’s been moving along nicely. Today (Thursday) is actually my last day on the range. Tomorrow I’ll be heading up into the Arctic Circle, to Fort Yukon. The maximum height of the rocket’s trajectory, or apogee, will actually be just west of Fort Yukon. Here’s a map that shows the flight trajectory for MICA. The launch site at Poker Flat is near the bottom. Fort Yukon can be seen where the two rivers (blue squiggly lines) diverge between 66- and 67-degrees latitude. The target-like blue reticle is the targeted landing site. The black line running almost due north from Poker Flat to the center of the blue target is the proposed flight trajectory. The red zones emanating from the launch site are the different zones of influence for the launch; these basically rate how significantly the launch will influence these areas. Ideally we’ll be looking to launch into a stable auroral arc almost directly over Fort Yukon. I’ll be stationed there taking images of the aurora to help support the launch.


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