Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Chinese ASAT vs US Orbital Rendezvous

A comparison of the Chinese ASAT test and the US orbital rendezvous and docking test makes an interesting contrast, to some extent even reversing some racial stereotypes often applied to Asians and the USA.

The Chinese military's January 11 pretentious demonstration of ASAT capability consisted of blasting the disused Chinese Feng Yun 1C satellite into hazardous fragments.

A few months later subcontractors of DARPA in the USA completed a beautifully executed demonstration of the mastery of space that I suspect has been tailored as a response to the Chinese test, shown to the rest of the world complete with video evidence stitched together from photos taken during the mission (unfortunately I am unable to see it because it is on a .mil site that presumably blocks page reads from outside the US, although I previously saw a clip on, I think, the space.com site).

So now, even if the Chinese can blast entire flotillas of satellites into smithereens and make LEO virtually unusable, for now only the US is capable of making an 'ASTRO' satellite that can gently float up to another satellite, photograph it, refuel it and otherwise service it, or alternatively spin it up, push it into a useless orbit or deorbit it altogether, all without affecting the surrounding space environment in the slightest.

Of course the specific purpose of the ongoing tests is to develop an in orbit servicing capability that will greatly increase the lifespan of satellites and reduce costs. However, the goals of this mission and the was clearly not formulated in a vacuum, if you'll excuse the pun. There is no doubt in my mind that DARPA has identified satellite manouverability, and rendezvous capability as a high priority need, partly as a result of ASAT research in foreign countries.

Nevertheless, in order to have full control of LEO, the DOD really needs rapid access to space (or Operationally Responsive Space capability) in order to ensure the necessary hardware can be put in place when needed. It is to be hoped that a future Presidental administration realize the importance of this, and the wrong headedness of pursuing an unenforceable treaty prohibiting ASAT technology when they are so close to the goal of complete mastery of near Earth space.

Finished first prototype engine control system

I've been quite busy at work lately, finishing the first prototype for the CHASE-10 engine electronic control system, which is the main reason for the lack of blog posts lately. I've now finished the first prototype. It performs a real time data acquisition and signal processing on up to 42 analog input signals. One of the main requirements was engine health monitoring, so it performs Fast Fourier Transforms (FFTs) on up to 20 input channels, at a maximum sampling frequency of either 20KHz or 60KHz. The FFTs will be mainly used to monitor the pressure sensor and accelerometer signals. The system also incorporates an end-to-end simulation mode.
We're now thinking about making it a commercial product. In the near future I'll be taking some photos and putting them on the website to announce the product officially. I'll put another post on this blog as well, to let everyone know.
My next development task will be improving the real time data transfer rate to a remote PC so that it can have a secondary role as a data acquisition system in our test facility, and building the next prototype which will use custom PCB's instead of development boards; - plenty to keep me busy over the next few months.