NASA techs to monitor rocket launch from Kodiak

Posted: Friday, August 10, 2001

CORDOVA (AP) -- Spacemen have landed at the Cordova's ''Mudhole Smith'' airport, but don't be alarmed. They aren't aliens and they have given assurances that they come in peace.

In fact, the new arrivals in town are technicians for the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's mobile Wallops Flight Facility, based out of Wallops Island, Va. They, along with $10 million in high-tech gear, will monitor a single rocket launch from the Kodiak Island Launch Facility at Narrow Cape Aug. 31.

The rocket launch, Project Kodiak Star, will send a Lockheed Martin Athena One missile up over the North Pacific. The Cordova station's mission during the launch will last a grand total 52 seconds. When it is all over, there will be four new satellites circling the globe doing work for NASA, the Department of Defense and the Alaska Aerospace Development Corp.

''The Cordova site is necessary because metalized particles in the exhaust plume will keep the Kodiak launch site from seeing the vehicle,'' said Web Metz, manager of the Cordova operation.

While Kodiak is temporarily blinded, the Cordova crew will provide range safety, tracking and telemetry support for the mission. The Kodiak facility will make the call to abort the mission blow up the launch vehicle if anything goes wrong. The Cordova site, however, will be calling the shots for those crucial 52 seconds. Then Kodiak will take over again.

''Range safety means that if it heads over populated areas, we will detonate it,'' Metz said.

The Cordova site has one of the proverbial ''red buttons,'' as part of the command system's obligatory redundancy. Both the Kodiak facility and the Cordova facility are capable of handling the launch and have multiple control panels for every function at each site.

''We're running on electricity from the power company, but we also have our own generator and back-up batteries if both those options fail,'' Metz said.

In addition to tractor trailer-sized vans for command, support and power, the Cordova operation has an 11-foot radar dish and a 27-foot telemetry dish to download data from the vehicle. Kodiak has a similar command and control setup with slightly smaller dishes.

This is not the first trip to exotic locales by the Wallops mobile range. For nearly 30 years, Wallops has provided mobile range support for rocket launches around the world.

Interestingly enough, some of the computer equipment on board the vans is nearly 20 years old, but it still gets the job done.

''We don't necessarily want new, untried technology on a launch,'' Metz said. ''We prefer to use something that we know works.''

Being experienced travelers, the NASA crew is not shy.

''Anybody that wants to come out and take a tour is welcome to,'' Metz said.

They may, however, be a little busy Aug. 31, he added.

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