Newsletter Issue: Q3, 2014

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VXI-LXI DAQ System Ensures Mission Critical Reliability for Rocket Engine Test

by Tom Sarfi, VTI Instruments

This rocket launch vehicle manufacturer is the world’s largest producer of solid rocket motors (SRMs), which are used for delivering payloads both inside and outside of Earth’s atmosphere. The company produces and tests small- to mid-sized rocket motors for several programs. The defense industry uses SRMs to precisely deliver a destructive force while space agencies use man-rated SRMs to carry humans into space.

Whether it’s validating the development of future SRMs or verifying the production of existing designs, adequate testing is critical to the success of each launch. SRM testing requires the utmost accuracy because a launch failure can be catastrophic and result in the loss of lives. Two specific examples are space mission launches that do not go as planned and the launch of defensive missiles that malfunction or do not fly on target. Testing these launch vehicles can be complicated because of the extreme nature of the environment.

Test Setup

The rocket launch vehicle manufacturer conducts SRM tests at its rocket motor test stands, which are located in a remote part of the US where testing can be conducted safely. The test stands (or cells) are positioned so that the solid rocket motors are held in place and can be fired while hundreds of data acquisition channels collect data. During testing, personnel and equipment must be safeguarded against the firing of the motor. To do this, the equipment must be enclosed in a large cement structure over 100 meters from the launch vehicle. Operators and controlling PCs are further separated in a bunker 1,500 meters away from the test site. Therefore, Ethernet drastically simplifies the separation of personnel, instrumentation, and the motor under test by allowing data to be acquired remotely. Because of the cost associated with firing an SRM, a reliable test procedure is vital. These procedures systematically guarantee that all instrumentation is up, running, and collecting reliable data before the motor is ignited.




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