By Staff Sgt. Don Branum
Academy Public Affairs
Cadets and staff with the Astronautics Department here concluded that an aft-installed thermite igniter was the most likely cause of a malfunction in FalconLaunch6 that destroyed the rocket during a static fire test Nov. 4.
Observations made from high-speed imagery and data collected after the malfunction suggest that the motor case experienced a rapid rise in pressure within the first second after launch, according to the investigation.
The most likely probabilities are that the igniter released more energy than expected, detonating solid rocket fuel that was weakened by the igniter’s placement within the rocket, or that dislodged fuel and the expelled igniter blocked the exhaust nozzle, the investigation concluded.
The cadet team changed the current FalconLaunch8 propulsion system to reduce the risk of a repeat occurrence in the current rocket’s motor. One change includes installing the igniter near the top of the rocket, rather than near the nozzle.
FalconLaunch8 is scheduled to undergo a test fire in Jacks Valley here in January. A successful test will lead to a planned April 2010 launch of the rocket from White Sands Missile Range, N.M. Cadets expect the vehicle to travel faster than Mach 3 for more than five seconds.
FalconLaunch8 will carry the program’s first Department of Defense Space Test Program payload: instrumented winglets designed for per-formance testing at high speeds. The winglets could be used on future reusable space vehicles and other hypersonic systems if they prove successful on the FalconLaunch project.