MASER is a sounding rocket program for microgravity research developed and managed by SSC. The first MASER rocket was launched in March 1987. It is a complete, cost-effective concept for short duration microgravity research with international user participation. An experienced project team runs MASER and offers experiment modules, subsystems and frequent flight opportunities.
The payload normally consists of four to seven independent experiment modules, and related service systems. The total experiment part of the payload is 240-290 kg. Late access for installation of biological samples is possible up to one hour before lift-off. Customers are welcome to fly their own modules on MASER or to use existing equipment. Existing modules are readily available on a rental basis, new modules or hardware can be developed if required. SSC is happy to furnish further details.
MASER uses a two-stage solid propellant rocket. Earlier, Black Brant IX in different versions or the Skylark 7 have been used. They are now replaced by the VSB 30 rocket motor. A guidance system, S-19, is used depending on the mission requirements.
The service system consists of:
- Service module with integrated Rate Control System
- Recovery system
- Digital video system or TV modules.
The service module provides indication of lift-off as well as microgravity phase start and end to the experiment modules. It also provides flight information such as accelerations, angular rate and temperatures.
Furthermore the service module collects data from the experiment modules and transmits telemetry data (TM) to ground during flights. The maximum telemetry speed is 5 Mbit/s for telemetry data and 20 Mbit/ for the digital video system.
The module can also receive telecommands (TC) from ground and distribute them to the experiment modules. The command link is protected by error-corrected coding.
Digital video system
The Digital Video System, or the TV modules, transmit pictures from several cameras to the ground during flight. The real time telemetry data, video images and the possibility to send telecommands permit the users to monitor and control their experiments during flight. The rate control system ensures that the accelerations during the microgravity phase are kept below 10-4g.
A parachute system is used for land recovery. The payload speed at landing is about 8 m/s. For positioning, a GPS receiver and a beacon are placed in the recovery module. The payload is transported back to the launch site by helicopter. The complete payload is back at the launch site after about one hour, early retrieval of biological samples can be made at the impact point after about 30 minutes.
Research in microgravity
Using unmanned high-altitude rockets, scientists can perform research in near weightlessness, so called microgravity. Gravity affects many physical, chemical and biological processes on Earth. By reducing the effect of the gravitational pull to only one ten-thousandth of that on Earth, valuable research can be performed.