DME designs Joint STARS test system with COTS equipment

ORLANDO, Fla. - Officials at DME Corp.`s Orlando Test Systems in Orlando, Fla., are using primarily commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment to develop a depot test capability for the U.S. Air Force E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft, better known as Joint STARS.

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By John McHale

ORLANDO, Fla. - Officials at DME Corp.`s Orlando Test Systems in Orlando, Fla., are using primarily commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) equipment to develop a depot test capability for the U.S. Air Force E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft, better known as Joint STARS.

The VXI-based, open-architecture test system, called the Joint STARS semi-automated test system (JSATS), tests the analog, digital, and RF assemblies located in the radar, operations and control, and communications subsystems of the Joint STARS aircraft, says Lou Salzano, program manager at DME.

The E-8C, a modified Boeing 707 aircraft, is a joint U.S. Air Force and Army airborne battlefield surveillance system designed to detect the movement of soldiers, vehicles, and equipment on the ground.

Designing JSATS with COTS equipment was approximately 30 to 40 percent cheaper than using military-specific parts, Salzano says.

The individual devices met all expectations; the main challenge was integrating the different protocols, he says.

The heart of JSATS, to be deployed at Warner Robins Air Logistics Center at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., fits in two 19-inch racks. It contains an Intel Pentium Pro-based industrial-grade computer operating under Windows NT. It uses a high- resolution 21-inch monitor with outputs to a laser printer.

The Pentium Pro PC, which runs LabVIEW software from National Instruments in Austin, Texas, contains a VXI-MXI-2 interface and controls the JSATS VXI chassis- and rack-mounted instruments.

The DME device uses Boston-based Teradyne`s M910 Digital Test Instrument and its LASAR post-processor to test the Joint STARS digital RF assemblies. The M910 is a C-size VXI instrument for advanced digital and mixed-signal test.

The Teradyne equipment was a little more expensive than competing systems, but the quality was worth it, Salzano explains. Teradyne engineers developed the LASAR digital simulation software, and have a strong reputation, he says.

LabVIEW is a user-friendly, graphical programming language that even nonprogrammers find easy to work with, Salzano says.

The JSATS will run semi-automated Test Program Sets (TPS) executed from a DME custom-designed LabVIEW test executive to test and fault isolate the RF assemblies. The JSATS test executive will enable the operator to control all TPS test activities and manipulate historical test data.

The test executive is transportable across similar systems with little or no modification.

DME engineers are developing a tool to enable engineers with basically no LabVIEW experience to generate test software directly from a LabVIEW front panel, Salzano says.

To provide complete analog stimulus and measurement capabilities, DME designers incorporated VXI based waveform generators, analyzers, counters, digital-to-analog converters, multimeters, 1553 bus analyzers, and switch matrices.

Additional security comes from a removable disk cartridge, Salzano says.

The system`s modularity also enables packaging into a ruggedized transportable configuration for on-site field or flight line testing or screening of full-up weapons or avionics systems.

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COTS equipment was the cornerstone of a semi-automated test system built by DME Corp. for the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft.

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