Report: NASA Sounding Rockets User Handbook (NASA 2023)

The NASA Sounding Rocket Program (NSRP)

This Handbook was written to assist NSRP customers in developing payloads that meet the requirements necessary to achieve mission-specific, scientific objectives.

The NSRP is a suborbital space flight program that primarily supports NASA-sponsored space and earth sciences research activities, other government agencies, and international sounding rocket groups and scientists. Since its inception in 1959, some 3,000 missions have flown with an overall science mission success rate in the previous twenty years exceeding ninety percent and launch vehicle success rate of over ninety-seven percent. The program is a low-cost, quick-response effort providing approximately twenty flight opportunities per year to scientific and technology demonstration investigations. Science investigations are involved in upper atmosphere, plasma physics, solar physics, planetary atmospheres, galactic astronomy, high energy astrophysics, and micro-gravity research. These rockets are launched from a variety of launch sites throughout the world.

In the mid-1980s, the NSRP was consolidated at the Wallops Flight Facility of the Goddard Space Flight Center. The program has continued to grow in terms of average payload size, weight, complexity, and range. NSRP flight systems are remarkably sophisticated spacecraft, capable of lofting 1,000- pound payloads to 280 kilometers and 250-pound payloads to 1,500 kilometers apogee.

NSRP customers consist primarily of university and government research groups; however, some research activities involve the commercial sector. The program has contributed major scientific findings and research papers to the world of suborbital space science, validated satellite tracking and instrumentation, and served as a proving ground for spaceship and space station components. Many new scientists have received training and developmental experience through NSRP internships and graduate study programs offered by participating educational institutions.

Systems and services provided to customers of the NSRP encompass the complete spectrum of support: mission management, payload design and development, launch vehicles, recovery systems, attitude control systems, payload testing and evaluation, analytical studies, launch range operations/ coordination, tracking, data acquisition and data processing.

Customers are required to provide the scientific instruments/detectors for the payload, a comprehensive description of the support requested from NASA, and objective criteria that will used to determine the success or failure of the mission after all operations are complete.

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