Honeywell readies mobile COTS-based rocket tracking gear for Air Force evaluation

Systems integrators at the Honeywell Commercial Systems operation in Clearwater, Fla., are re-designing missile-tracking equipment to incorporate a wide variety of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) subsystems — and notably are omitting any use of radar transceivers.

By John Keller

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Systems integrators at the Honeywell Commercial Systems operation in Clearwater, Fla., are re-designing missile-tracking equipment to incorporate a wide variety of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) subsystems — and notably are omitting any use of radar transceivers.

The focal point of this effort is the Ballistic Missile Range Safety Technology program, better known as BMRST, which substitutes off-the-shelf Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, accelerometers, and ring laser gyros for radar, explains program manager Martin Seffrin.

The modular BMRST system fits in a large truck trailer that is air transportable worldwide aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo jet, Seffrin says. The truck itself, which "looks like what the television news folks use," is from Frontline Communications Corp. in Clearwater, Fla., he says.

The BMRST is for use at missile test centers to augment existing rocket-tracking systems and ensure that test rockets stay on pre-determined courses. Testers must quickly determine course deviations so they can destroy the rocket if it starts heading toward populated areas.

Existing rocket-tracking technology uses C-band beacons and radar. "That system is old and costly to maintain," Seffrin says. "It even has vacuum tubes in it; it is 1950s and 1960s technology." Air Force leaders, in fact, plan to shut down radar-based tracking systems at rocket test centers between 2003 and 2007, he says.

An added benefit might a need for fewer rocket-tracking systems, Seffrin explains. Testers could share a few systems by air-transporting them to ranges where they are needed, and eliminate fixed-based tracking equipment.

The BMRST system places a Honeywell H-764 integrated GPS/inertial navigation system (INS) aboard the test rocket. Honeywell engineers designed this system years ago for land vehicles, aircraft, and other applications.

The H-764 GPS/INS sends the rocket's position to the BMRST truck, which uses two redundant antennas to receive information from the rocket. Honeywell tested the system last March 22 at a test range in Kodiak, Alaska, Seffrin says.

The van contains all COTS equipment, including Windows NT-based computer servers, Seffrin explains. These servers run a variant of the Honeywell PlantScape manufacturing automation software from the company's Industrial Automation & Control unit in Phoenix. "We didn't have to grow our own, or have 20 software guys on staff," he says.

Technicians in the BMRST truck record telemetry data on a recorder from Metrum-Datatape Inc. of Monrovia, Calif. The truck's antennas come from the L-3 Communications EMP Division in Simi Valley, Calif.

Sponsoring the $11 million BMRST project are leaders of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M. If Air Force officials move the program into production, Honeywell could have systems ready "in a couple of years," Seffrin says.

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