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Dryden Aeronautical Test Range - Overview
January 16, 2014

The mission of the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Test Center's (AFRC) Dryden Aeronautical Test Range (DATR) includes supporting flight research and low earth-orbiting missions. Precision radars provide tracking and time-space positioning information (TSPI) data of various research vehicles. Fixed and mobile telemetry antennas are available to receive and transmit real-time data to/from the research vehicle, relaying this data to the telemetry processing area. The WATR Integrated Next Generation System (WINGS) processes the radar and telemetry data for display and analysis in the DATR Mission Control Center (MCC). Various communication networks support research operations within the DATR and to off-site locations. Video displays (to include video transmitted from the research vehicle) are provided real-time in the MCC, and are recorded in the Video Control Center (VCC) for flight safety and post-mission analysis. Additionally, mission telemetry data is processed for real-time monitoring, along with being recorded for flight safety and post-mission achieving. For flight safety, a Flight Termination System (FTS) is available in support of all Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) while on the test range.

diagram and photos of major watr systems

Aeronautical Test Facility (ATF) - Telemetry

DATR Tracking Systems consist of multiple antennas at AFRC, and a fleet of mobile systems for deployment to specified locations. The two main antenna systems at AFRC are 7-meter assets capable of supporting downlink telemetry and video signals in L-, S-, and C-bands, while sending uplink commands in either the L- or S-band. An additional (smaller) 3.7 meter antenna system is also available on-site – having similar performance characteristics. All antenna systems are capable of tracking targets from horizon to horizon. The 7-meter systems are certified as having a full on-orbit capability for Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) space vehicles. The telemetry tracking system contains telemetry receivers that acquire and condition the telemetry signals from a research vehicle, and then distribute each signal to the TRAPS/MCC processing systems. Included near the ATF site, are a variety of mobile systems ready to be deployed to the field on short notice. These systems can provide video, communications, and telemetry support in various configurations. Incorporated into these systems is a Mobile Operations Facility (MOF) that can process and display data similar to that of a fixed MCC.

Aeronautical Test Facility (ATF) - RADAR

The DATR RADAR systems include two highly accurate RIR-716 C-band instrumentation radars, providing Time Space Positioning Information (TSPI) of research aircraft and Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) space vehicles. Each RADAR system has a 1-megawatt transmitter and can track targets with accuracies to 0.0006 degrees in angle and 30 feet in range - depending on supporting mode (skin or beacon). The RADAR site has the capability to accept acquisition data in various formats, record the data on-site, and provide post-flight radar data to the customer in the desired engineering parameters. The RADAR system contains several embedded computer systems for control, data formatting and distribution. Additionally, the DATR maintains a processing system, on a dedicated and isolated Gigabit Ethernet network, labeled RIPS (RADAR Information Processing System). This PC-based system offers the ability to acquire TSPI data from a variety of TSPI sources and process the data for subsequent distribution and "slaving" of DATR assets for positive acquisition during research missions. The DATR also operates a Differential Global Positioning Satellite (DGPS) ground station. This system generates error corrections that can be sent this to the research vehicle real-time. Downlink GPS data embedded in the aircraft telemetry signal can be used to provide positioning information to ground controllers using display maps in the MCC.

Communications Systems

A remote communications facility provides a variety of ultra-high frequency (UHF), very-high frequency (VHF), and high frequency (HF) communication transceivers for use in the MCC. Radio frequency (RF) communications antenna systems include several omni-directional antennas, three high-gain directional parabolic arrays, and multiple Yagi array antenna platforms. A comprehensive DATR intercommunication system is provided to support multiple operational requirements in the MCC. This system consists of a broad matrix of trunk lines, approximately 100 communication stations, public address systems, commercial telephone nets, and military ground communication networks. An extensive architecture of copper, fiber optic, and satellite links serve to relay RADAR, voice, video, and telemetry data between AFRC facilities, NASA Centers, and other government agencies.

Flight Termination System (FTS)

Redundant 1-kilowatt transmitters, in the UHF frequency band (400MHz – 500MHz) are available to support all local Uninhabited Air Vehicles (UAVs) while on the Edwards test range. Control of these transmitters are provided (via flight termination panels) in the DATR Mission Control Center (MCC), and are operated by a Range Safety Officer (RSO) during a research mission. Concurrently, technicians at the transmitter site (Bldg 4824) monitor system health status, and provide assistance should a failure occur. Additionally, system health status is time-stamped and recorded on a PC-based data-logger in real-time. Depending on mission requirements, various flight termination antennas are available for use. These include gained Yagi antennas, Omni-directional antennas and a high-gain directional parabolic array.

Video/ Long-Range Optics (LRO)

Numerous fixed and mobile camera systems are used to acquire mission video for flight monitoring and safety concerns in the MCC. Within these systems, include one long-range, broadcast-quality, high-definition optical and infrared tracking system. This platform provides day and night coverage of the local airspace. Several other camera systems provide close-up coverage of flight-line and runway areas during a mission. Mission video is routed to the MCC, and other desired locations, by the use of a digital video switcher. Mobile video vans are available to cover remote locations with real-time (microwave) video coverage to the MCC. Downlink video from research or chase aircraft is also available for display into the MCC. Video can be recorded on a variety of formats to include Beta Superior Performance, D2 digital (slow motion viewing), DVD, and High-Definition recorders. All recorded video is achieved for a period of 30 days, unless otherwise directed.

Data Processing / Mission Control Center (MCC)

The MCC is configured with approximately 30 flight test engineer and researcher stations, large overhead video displays, IRIG-B timing displays and special-purpose displays. Range Control, Mission Control, flight operations, Range Safety and Flight Director consoles are located in the MCC for flight and system monitoring. Support capabilities include video monitoring, communication nets, PC workstations, and vehicle positioning displays at select workstations.

Data processing systems consist of a Telemetry/Radar Acquisition and Processing System (TRAPS) that serves the real-time processing needs of the MCC. The TRAPS acquires and merges data from multiple sources in various formats to a single, time-correlated, composite stream for processing, storage, distribution, and real-time use. Data archiving is available in analog and digital formats for post-flight playback and processing.

State-of-the-art hardware and software systems are available to engineers for pre- and post-flight data processing and analysis. The MCCS provide a common data format and format conversion utilities accessible by various post-flight analysis tools (such as MATLAB). In addition, multiple data interfaces (network and web services) are available, and segments of post-flight data can be provided on portable media to customers immediately after a research mission.

Data Processing Rack (Shuttle)

The Data Processing Rack (DPR), formerly referred to as the "Shuttle Rack", is located at the NASA Armstrong Aeronautical Tracking Facility (ATF-1) site.  At the end of the Shuttle program the “Shuttle” capable equipment (NCPS and SCD’s) were removed and two single channel legacy systems remain at Armstrong for local command data.  The DPR also performs duties on local AFRC research missions for the recording and archival of critical mission telemetry data. Originally designed to provide STS Primary Edwards landing Telemetry, Commanding and Pilots Point Of View (PPOV) it also supplemented the Shuttle Tracking and Data Network (STDN).  It provided both uplink (forward link) commanding and downlink telemetry throughput for the duration of Armstrong Shuttle support activities.  Previously, the Space Tracking and Data Network (STDN) network relied on JPL/Goldstone and Vandenberg AFB for this related support. However, Goldstone's deep-space commitments and rising operating costs transferred the Shuttle support commitment to Armstrong just following the Challenger accident. As years progressed, refinements and improvements in technologies and equipment had significantly enhanced the usefulness of the DPR. During the STS-107 flight, the CANDOS experiment extensively utilized the DPR for proving the feasibility of the future concepts of IP "packetized" telemetry data practices.  Both Command data and Telemetry data were packetized prior to STS-107.

Down Link
The primary function of the DPR's downlink capability is to receive telemetry from one of the two AFRC telemetry systems (either the MFTS - Multiple Frequency Tracking System or Triplex). The raw telemetry downlink is bit synchronized which re-clocks and conditions the data prior to it being recorded onto solid state Wideband recorders and/or frame synchronized for data quality monitoring System. Each mission establishes the requirements, determining how the data is handled at the DPR. Data from a AFRC local research mission is sent (in real-time) over fiber-optic circuits to the Mission Control Center (MCC) in Bldg. 4800 for analysis by the project engineers and scientists. During the Shuttle era STS data was sent over wideband IP data circuits to Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) for distribution to the Shuttle network over Small Conversion Devices – commonly known as "SCDs" (pronounced: scŭds). Post-landing data support of the Space Shuttle, via a hardline umbilical data path (called the SPA line), was located at the Shuttle Processing Area (SPA). This line allowed for continued support of the Shuttle, even when the orbiter's RF link is brought down during processing of the orbiter in preparation for the transport back to Kennedy Space Center (KSC). AFRC has full redundancy throughout this downlink system. During the Shuttle program personnel proficiency STS support training was accomplished through local training as well as network supported exercises, to include launch, landing, post-landing simulations and Ops procedural exercises.

The DPR uplink system consists of patch panels, fiber optic devices, conversion devices, distribution amplifiers and bit synchronizers used for both local missions, as well as the former Space Shuttle operations. For local research flights, the uplink modulation is received from a fiber-optic link generated at Bldg. 4800. This data is sent to the selected MFTS or Triplex systems to modulate the L- or S-Band uplink exciter before transmitting it to a research aircraft. For Space Shuttle support, the DPR received the command modulation (either 32kbs or 72kbs) from Johnson Space Center (JSC) over the STDN Network, and then through GSFC on the NASCOM 224kbs legacy circuit. The blocked command modulation was processed by the Network Command Processing System (NCPS). The NCPS formatted the data into the proper uplink format specific to the orbiter. This modulation was then sent to the MFTS and Triplex systems to be sent to the orbiter via one of the S-Band Uplink transmitters. AFRC has full redundancy throughout the uplink architecture and personnel proficiency training is accomplished as for the downlink system.

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Page Last Updated: March 3rd, 2014
Page Editor: Yvonne Gibbs