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Dryden Tested Shuttle's Microwave Landing System
10.03.11
 
The primary ground-based components of the space shuttle MSBLS landing navigation system installed on the bed of Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base included the antenna at left and microwave scanning electronics in the orange and white structure at right. The primary ground-based components of the space shuttle MSBLS landing navigation system installed on the bed of Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base included the data monitoring system mounted on the pole at left and the azimuth guidance / distance measuring equipment electronics and antennas in the orange and white structure at right. A similar shelter at the approach end of the runway housed the elevation antennas and electronics. (NASA photo)› View Larger Image

(Editor's Note: NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California's high played a significant role in the space shuttle's development. In commemoration of the now-concluded Space Shuttle Program, we are publishing a series of historical retrospectives that explore some of the center's contributions to the shuttle's design, development and flight validation. In this seventh article, Dryden historian Peter Merlin recalls how a modified Lockheed JetStar business jet was used to flight-validate and certify the shuttle's Microwave Scanning Beam Landing System.)

NASA Dryden's now-retired Lockheed JetStar flies a low landing approach to lakebed runway 17 at Edwards during checkout of the space shuttle's microwave scanning beam landing system housed in the enclosure at right.NASA Dryden's now-retired Lockheed JetStar flies a low landing approach to lakebed runway 17 at Edwards during checkout of the space shuttle's microwave scanning beam landing system housed in the enclosure at right. (NASA photo) › View Larger Image From August 1976 to February 1982, a Lockheed JetStar research aircraft at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base was used to test and certify the space shuttle’s Microwave Scanning Beam Landing System (MSBLS). This aircraft navigation system provided the precise position of the shuttle orbiter in relation to the runway to the shuttle pilots during landing approach.

The MSBLS consisted of specialized equipment installed on the aircraft and on the ground near the runways. Dryden pilots logged 671 flight hours during 346 missions to check out MSBLS equipment at the three primary shuttle landing sites.

The JetStar was first flown to Long Island, N.Y., where the AIL Division of Cutler Hammer installed MSBLS equipment. Preliminary trials took place at the Grumman Corporation’s microwave test facility at Peconic, New York. In August 1976, NASA research pilots flew 21 MSBLS approaches to lakebed Runway 17 at Edwards. A laser tracking system provided the airplane’s exact position in flight to validate the accuracy of the MSBLS. These tests certified Runway 17 for use by the prototype orbiter Enterprise in the Approach and Landing Test program in 1977.

NASA Dryden's now-retired Lockheed JetStar flies a low landing approach to lakebed runway 35 at Edwards past the antenna of the space shuttle's microwave scanning beam landing system in 1977.NASA Dryden's now-retired Lockheed JetStar flies a low landing approach to lakebed runway 35 at Edwards past the data monitoring system pole of the space shuttle's microwave scanning beam landing system in 1977. (NASA photo) › View Larger Image A second set of MSBLS ground stations were installed for the main 15,000-foot concrete runway at Edwards, and tested with the JetStar making numerous landing approaches over the course of 83 flights through October 1977.

Dryden pilots took the JetStar to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla., in April 1978 for certification of runway 33/15. By December, the crew had completed more than 100 data runs. A year later, the JetStar crew began a series of 46 MSBLS flight tests at Northrup Strip, later renamed White Sands Space Harbor, near White Sands, N.M.

Modifications to the MSBLS system necessitated a return to KSC followed by additional certification tests at White Sands and Edwards in 1980.

Testing continued even after the successful landing of the shuttle Columbia following its maiden flight in April 1981. The final MSBLS tests involving the JetStar occurred in June 1982. After this, a Learjet 25 from NASA’s Lewis (now Glenn) Research Center took over the task of conducting further testing of the MSBLS system.

 
 
Peter W. Merlin, Historian
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center