Research & Development

Thrust Vectoring Successfully Demonstrated on P-3 Launch and Recovery, Feb. 22, 2003

California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) and Garvey Spacecraft Corporation (GSC), partners in the California Launch Vehicle Education Initiative, achieved yet another milestone with the successful launch and recovery of the Prospector-3 rocket on Sat., Feb. 22, 2003 at the Mojave Test Area (MTA). Primary accomplishments included initial demonstration of thrust vector control, an improved engine chamber design and the first use of a new set of flight control avionics.

P-3 rocket in flight

P-3 in flight (photo by Kim Garvey)

In-flight Thrust Vectoring

Following their static fire test of a rocket engine gimballing system conducted in Sept. 2002, the team of CSULB students and industry mentors integrated the system into the Prospector-3 vehicle and launched it on Sat. Feb. 22 at the Mojave Test Area, site owned and operated by the Reaction Research Society (RRS). The thrust vector control system was flown in open loop with a 2 deg. engine deflection (to induce a nose down pitching motion) programmed to take place 3 seconds into the flight, the engine staying deflected by this amount for half a second, then going to -2 deg. and staying at this position for another half second before returning to zero.

The initial review of the flight data indicates that after the initial three seconds of flight, before any engine deflection was initiated, the vehicle already had a flight path angle of more than 30 deg. away from the vertical. At this point, the nose down maneuver took place as planned and increased the nose down flight path angle which rapidly reached horizontal. The programmed engine deflection in the opposite direction (-2 deg.) was insufficient to change attitude sufficiently in order to increase altitude. A few seconds later, the barometer sensing loss in altitude initiated the recovery sequence with deployment of the drogue and main chutes. The vehicle was then recovered.

USC Payloads onboard P-3

The Prospector-3 rocket also flew two sets of payloads developed by USC students involved in the USC Microsatellite Program. One of these payloads was a set of bonding samples manufactured at JPL to test a new bonding technique for use in MEMS. The other was a flight computer to record the launch environment (including high frequency accelerometers). Details on the outcome of the launch will be posted here as soon as it is available.

P-3 Launch Pictures




Next steps

One of the next steps in the TVC system development will include a flight in closed-loop mode, based on the control algorithm developed by Universal Space Lines (USL). This flight might be preceded by the flight of the whole system in passive mode, in order to acquire data using the hardware (including flight computer) to be used in the latter flight.

Special thanks

The CSULB team would like to recognize the following individuals who, through their support, made this flight a success. First and foremost, John Garvey, John Engberg and David McCue who, despite playing a pivotal role in the vehicle development, did not get to witness the complete flight first hand since they were in the blockhouse, Mike Novratil for working with the students on vehicle integration and operations, Kevin Baxter for providing the launch rail, Mark Holthaus for integrating the recovery system, Richard Ornellas for providing the LOX and Dave Crisalli, President of the RRS, for giving the CALVEIN team access to the MTA.

For more information about CALVEIN, contact Dr. Eric Besnard,

For more information about the USC Microsatellite Program, contact Brian D'Souza,