Team SBL-IFX Uses Alpha Laser Test to Refine Design Tools, Reduce Size, Weight and Cost for Space-Based Laser

    Business Editors
    REDONDO BEACH, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Nov. 14, 2000--Team SBL-IFX, a joint venture comprising TRW (NYSE:TRW), Lockheed Martin and Boeing, is using results from a recent test of the TRW-built Alpha chemical laser to validate and refine the software models being used to design and predict the performance of the high-energy laser required for an experimental space-based missile defense system proposed by the Air Force and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization.
    The test is the latest in a string of successes the team has had in reducing the potential size, weight and cost of the Space-Based Laser Integrated Flight Experiment (SBL-IFX), expected to be launched in 2012.
    The six-second test of the megawatt-class Alpha was conducted Oct. 12 at TRW's Capistrano Test Site in Southern California. It demonstrated that discrete variations in the laser's chemical flow rates could be used to tailor the laser's chemical efficiency and output power, and the uniformity of its beam. The test also validated a new diagnostic tool used to calculate the laser's output power during testing.
    "Being able to test our SBL-IFX laser predictions using a real high-energy laser test bed such as Alpha is a real bonus," said Col. Neil McCasland, director of the Air Force's SBL-IFX project. "The more we understand about laser performance under different operating conditions, the more accurately we can design and produce a laser that's optimized for the size, weight and performance requirements of the SBL-IFX mission."
    Team SBL-IFX conducted the Alpha test as part of its $240 million development contract with the Air Force and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. The SBL-IFX project will use a cylindrical, hydrogen-fluoride chemical laser like Alpha as its baseline, but will take advantage of engineering advances in the design and fabrication of laser hardware since Alpha was designed in the mid-1980s.
    According to Dan Wildt, TRW's SBL-IFX program manager, the demonstrated relationships between chemical flow rates and laser performance are encouraging. "This test has helped us validate ways to increase the chemical efficiency of the laser, which will translate directly into reductions in the size and weight of chemical storage tanks required to support a given mission requirement," he explained. Chemical efficiency is a measure of the laser's ability to extract energy from a controlled chemical reaction. The more efficient the laser, the more power it can produce per unit weight of chemical reactants.
    The Alpha test follows several other recent developments by Team SBL-IFX that will reduce the SBL-IFX laser's size, weight and cost, and enhance its performance. The list of successes includes:

- Development of a new, self-cooling laser nozzle (device that feeds chemical reactants into lasing cavity) that allows the laser to extract 30 percent more output power from a given amount of laser reactants;
- Development and demonstration of a faster, more reliable way to fabricate the nozzles into rings that form the SBL-IFX laser's primary combustion chamber, known as the gain generator; and
- Development of the manufacturing processes required to produce and coat uncooled, single-crystal silicon optics used for the mirrors in the SBL-IFX lasing cavity. The use of uncooled optics will eliminate the significant weight and complexity of "plumbing" systems required by traditional water-cooled laser systems.

    Team SBL-IFX will couple data from the Alpha test with data from small-scale hardware based on the new nozzle design to refine the computer-based model of the megawatt-class SBL-IFX laser. That model will become the basis for the SBL-IFX laser payload design.
    Team SBL-IFX's risk-reduction activities are focused on maturing the component technologies required to produce, integrate and perform a ground-based demonstration of a full-scale SBL-IFX integrated test unit before the end of the decade. The objective of the SBL-IFX project is a lethal, on-orbit demonstration of SBL-IFX's defensive capabilities against a live, boosting missile target, expected in 2013.
    Team SBL-IFX comprises TRW Space & Electronics Group, Redondo Beach, Calif.; Lockheed Martin Missiles & Space Operations, Sunnyvale, Calif.; and Boeing Space & Communications Group, Seal Beach, Calif.