Before kicking off another busy year for the White Sands Missile Range Test Center, the organization took advantage of its slow period to test their data equipment’s accuracy. The team tested their optics, telemetry, radar, GPS and real-time display equipment Jan. 10 to 13.
“We take advantage of this down time to improve operational readiness,” said Director of Range Operations Gilbert Harding.
Lupita Soliz, WSMR program manager, said the week of testing allows them to review all of their tracking data to ensure they don’t have any “deltas” or difference in results. She said if there is a “delta” during the week of calibration they work to remove those “deltas” to be able to give the customer the most precise data available.
“The instruments have to work together to give data,” said Jason Shankle, WSMR electronics engineer. “We advertise that we can reach a certain level of accuracy so we need to test that level of accuracy regularly.”
On Jan. 10 and 11 the team tested their equipment on T-38s coming out of Holloman Air Force Base. The Jan. 12 and 13 mission was the first of its kind, where model rockets were used to test their fixed, high speed and surveillance cameras and tracking technology. The reason the rocket testing was added to the calibration is because the center wanted to test their ability of tracking a new Extended Area Protection and Survivability missile that travels a lot faster than a standard missile.
“It gives us practice and helps us develop techniques to track it,” Shankle said.
He said because the model rockets are so inexpensive, $80 for the rocket and $40 for the motor, several rockets can be tested throughout the day. Eight rockets were to be tested on the 12th and seven rockets were to be tested on the 13th. Only two rockets were tested on the 12th due to issues with the launchers, but the issue was corrected and all seven rockets where launched on the 13th within 10 minute intervals.
“What they’re doing is a no-cost approximation,” Harding said. “We have been challenged to track small, fast rockets off the launch pad and effectively track them as soon as they launch. It helps them fine-tune their processes and set-up before they get into EAPS tests.”
The testing team is made up of over 200 employees who work on everything from tracking missiles and aircrafts to ensuring the customer receives the highest quality of footage and photos of the missile or aircraft.
“It is a big coordination effort with a lot of people on the field,” Soliz said.
The testing also provided an opportunity to introduce newly hired employees, who have taken over for recently retired employees, to the testing field. Soliz said the newer employees were able to test their aircraft and missile tracking skills during the mock rocket testing.
The calibration also allows the center to test new evolutionary software upgrades that are usually developed in-house, Shankle said.
“It gives everyone an opportunity to try new things they’ve been working on,” Soliz said.
WSMR Navy also benefited from the testing as they were able to test their Precision Acquisition System by tracking the aircrafts and missiles and comparing the results with the Test Center. Soliz said the week of calibration would not have been possible without the assistance of TRAX International.
Harding said these types of calibration tests are not only conducted at the beginning of the year but are done as often as possible throughout the year to ensure the center’s accuracy. According to Chief of Range Scheduling Mike Parsons, in 2016 there were 256 hot tests conducted and 283 tests with lasers for a grand total of 539 tests.