Stage views

Views of a rocket launch from the perspective of the rocket stage are always intriguing.  They get even better when they use good quality sound and video from the flight itself.  For serious students of rocketry, there is a host of clues about the nature of flight to be gleamed from them.

In the last few days, a video which captures the launch of the Space Shuttle from the perspective of its Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) has been spreading in popularity on the web. Since I don’t use phrases like “This is awesome!” I won’t start here.  You will have to judge for yourself… which is the way I like it.

But before getting to that video, I thought it would be worth noting the efforts of one of the most successful small teams.

Armadillo Aerospace Stiga

Space and rocket launches have a way of attracting entrepreneurial computer scientists.  In this case, John Carmack, the lead programmer of Id Software, pulled together a team in the desert of Texas known as Armadillo Aerospace.  They initially set their sights on the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X Prize competition, and won the Level 1 in 2008, worth $350,000.  In 2009, they were upstaged by another small team, Masten Space Systems, which won $1 million in the Level 2 challenge.  Armadillo came in second, receiving $500,000.  (Here is a NASA summary of the Lunar Lander competition.)

Armadillo went on to do its own high altitude sounding rocket development as well as lander development for NASA.  Their Stiga rocket gained an altitude of 95 km (59 miles) on its second flight. A ballute (somewhere between a balloon and parachute) was deployed as part of the recovery system, providing aerodynamic drag before a main chute was deploy. Unfortunately, a strap attached to the ballute broke.  The result was the rocket barreling into the ground at high speed.  Armadillo has been amazingly open about their successes and failures, providing a way for others to learn from their experiences.  Their summary on flight 2 of Stiga is here.  Their video (with sound) of the flight is below.

Armadillo went on to build Stig B.  However, following a launch failure of the rocket, the team is currently in hibernation.

Shuttle SRBs

A DVD/BluRay volume celebrating the Space Shuttle from NASA Glenn is being finalized.  However, a sneak peak has been uploaded to YouTube.  The sound and video come from cameras and microphones on the Shuttle SRBs. The sound quality has been enhanced by Skywalker Sound, but it is all sound from the SRB mics.

The upper right corner of the screen presents the speed of the vehicle.  One of my favorite moments is watching it transition through Mach 1, just above 700 mph.  It is one of the best view of breaking the sound barrier that I have seen anywhere.

About 123 seconds into flight, the SRBs are still burning, but main force and fury of the stages is already spent. The mics manage to capture the metallic groans of the stages shortly after separation from the Shuttle Orbiter and main tank, still on their way to orbit.  A ultra-bright light is seen as the SRBs fall away — the engines of the Shuttle Orbiter as it continues to orbit.

Since there are two SRBs, one is able to capture the free fall of the other.  As they reach the atmosphere, one is able to see the disintegration of the booster engine of the other.  Finally, there are loud pops as the main chutes are deployed, and the splash as they hit the Atlantic ocean — cameras and mics still recording.

The video was posted by Michael Interbatolo, an engineer and project manager at NASA Johnson Space Center by day who experiments in leading edge media technologies by night.

Translation experiments

There are, of course, other “cool” rocket videos on YouTube.  Of particular significance are demonstrations of translation, that is, controlled lateral (sideways) movement.

  • SpaceX recently demonstrated this with their Grasshopper reusable booster development. SpaceX confirms that no cows were injured in this test.
  • Masten has provided its Xombie rocket as a guidance, navigation, and control (GNC) test bed for other groups, such as JPL.  (Bonus compilation, including views from the rocket itself as well as the landing area, with the rocket coming toward you.)

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