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SPIRIT III Rocket - Glory Spacecraft - DANDE Spacecraft


A sounding rocket payload measuring ionospheric disturbances during an aurora borealis. Launched July 1st, 6:39am UTC from Andoya, Norway reaching an altitude of 165 km

SPIRIT III was a sounding rocket campaign to study third sounding rocket campaign at The Pennsylvania State University with the primary goal to measure ionospheric disturbances during aurora borealis events. The payload section measured fourteen inches in diameter with a length of ten feet and was primarily built by a team of 40 undergraduates from Penn State with contributing instruments supplied by three Norwegian Universities. The payload was fitted an Improved-Orion first stage and an Terrier second stage solid rocket which enabled the payload to pierce the ionosphere and measure plasma density, collision frequencies, X-ray flux, aerosol particle density and the presence of Noctilucent clouds. In addition there were several engineering demonstrations including: an innovative boom deployment system, composite nosecone / deck plates with strain sensors and a suite of sensors using acceleration, magnetic field and the sun to determine orientation. SPIRIT III is the third rocket in a ten year campaign and is nicknamed ESPRIT or aspire in French.

The image on the right is the CAD model of the flight configuration (click on image for more details). The top vertical shaft contains a bunch of instruments: Aerosol detector, sun sensor, Langmuir probes (with deploy-able booms) and a set of spectrometers (Penn State instruments are Blue, Norwegian are yellow). The shaft is designed to support and provide a platform for the composite nosecone to be ejected. The center portion of the rocket contains the electronics (beige boxes), computers (brown), batteries (green) and transmitters (red). There is an optics plate towards the middle and a NASA built timing/pyro deck below the batteries. The light blue band is one of the two transmitting antennas. Along the bottom is an X-Ray detector and a plasma frequency probe. The configure shown is how the payload looks during the science gathering phase of the mission (with the exception that the center skin is attached). The full rocket configuration can be seen in the bottom left corner, the shaded portion is the payload.

Rocket Website:

The website contains a large collection of pictures and information. Unfortunately it went offline offline in late 2010, however I maintain a copy as an archive which is available at: SPIRIT III Rocket

Cool things to check out (structurally related):
Deckplate Fabrication <-- Very neat, one of my favorite tasks!
Deckplate Break Test
Nosecone Fabrication
Boom Design

Pictures, some of my favorites:

Here's a picture of the final configuration of the rocket (only showing the second stage). There is indeed another stage that is not present here.

The rocket on the launch rail, note the beautiful Norwegian mountains in the background. Image Credit: Brian Pomeroy

Launch of the first stage! Image Credit: Brian Pomeroy

Among the most mechanically difficult components of the paylaod were these unfolding booms that held the Langmuir Probe instrument. The team which lead the development of this sub-system overcame many technical obstacles to make this work and was remarkably successful.

SPIRIT designed and fabricated a composite nosecone, a highly uncommon and difficult task. Here I am cleaning the plug (or mold) prior to the flight build.

The composite nosecone just prior to the autoclaving step (to cure the material with heat and pressure). The layup process start-to-finish was a day long procedure involving many shifts of students from each subsystem of the structures team.

The finished nosecone! (The second one came out beautifully!)

Working on the wiring harness just before our final nosecone deployment test. We are working near live pyrotechnics (bolt cutters) which requires ESD precautions (note blue coats).

Probably my favorite innovation on SPIRIT were the composite deckplates which in the end saved multiple kilograms from the payload mass. I along with my good friend were invited to present our work in Norway in the summer of 2004. In addition we have a detailed fabrication process available here:

Working on the strain gauges which were used on the nosecone / deckplates