Saturday, November 5, 2011

Aerobee pellets - shaped charges on sounding rockets

This project, launched just days after Sputnik 1, was the inspiration for my N-prize project proposal: Explosively formed projectile on a rockoon. Simply put, this was a modification of a project based on launching grenades with captured V2 rockets. I don't doubt that, like Project Farside, there must have been a political component to this being done around the time of Sputnik. Small shaped charges launched metal bits away from the rocket at high velocity near the apogee of the sounding rocket trajectory. There is a decent chance that the pellets entered into Earth or Solar orbit. There is a small but non-zero chance that something, perhaps tiny metal bits (no larger than sand grains) made an escape trajectory and are still on the way out of the solar system. There is also a risk that nothing was launched fast enough or in the correct direction, and all of the bits fell back to the Earth. Here is the best article about this project:

"On October 16, 1957, the Aerobee rocket was launched by the US Air Force from White Sands. On reaching an altitude of 56 km the nosecone was separated and upon reaching an altitude of 87 km the charges were triggered producing a -10 visual magnitude flash seen as far as mount Palomar, 1000 km away. In the same images which recorded the flash of the explosion the trail of a -2 visual magnitude meteor, clearly caused by the atmospheric entry of one of the spheres was recorded. The other two spheres were not recorded by any observer and it is possible that, if they were deployed in a correct attitde and having a speed much greater than Earth escape speed (about 11 km/s), they entered a solar orbit, thus becoming the first artificial "planets."

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