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F104 launching satellites

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  • F104 launching satellites

    Neat article, about plans to use the F104 to launch small satellites, and some of the history of the plane.

    The F-104, designed just after the first jet-vs-jet air combat in The Korean War, was created to fly as fast as possible, hurtling past all the previous speed records. Less than a decade after test pilot Chuck Yeager first broke the speed of sound, it became the first jet to fly more than twice the speed of sound.

    On top of a military career which lasted nearly 50 years, the F-104 found itself serving as an experimental testbed – a rocket-powered spacecraft stand-in that allowed pilots to practice the kind of rocket-thrust manoeuvring astronauts would use to control a spacecraft.

    Now, some 60 years after the prototype first flew, the F-104 has found another role – as the launch vehicle for a new generation of tiny satellites.

    The Canadian Forces oddly used the aircraft in a role it wasn't designed for, but was needed (and still is today by our forces), ground attack:

    The CF-104 entered Canadian service in March 1962. Originally designed as a supersonic interceptor aircraft, it was used primarily for low-level strike and reconnaissance by the RCAF. Eight CF-104 squadrons were originally stationed in Europe as part of Canada's NATO commitment. This was reduced to six in 1967, with a further reduction to three squadrons in 1970.[9] Up to 1971, this included a nuclear strike role that would see Canadian aircraft armed with US-supplied nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict with Warsaw Pact forces.

    When the CAF later discontinued the strike/reconnaissance role for conventional attack, the M61A1 was refitted, along with U.S. Snakeye "iron" bombs, British BL755 cluster bombs and Canadian-designed CRV-7 rocket pods. Although Canadian pilots practised air combat tactics, AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles were never carried operationally by Canadian Starfighters (however, examples provided to other air forces, such as Norway and Denmark, did carry Sidewinders on a twin-rail centreline station and the wingtip rails). The CF-104D two-seater did not normally carry any armament except for a centreline practice-bomb dispenser.

    There were 110 class A accidents in the 25 years that Canada operated the CF-104 resulting in 37 pilot fatalities. Most of these were in the early part of the program centering on teething problems. Of the 110 class A accidents 21 were attributed to foreign object damage (14 of which were birds), 14 were in flight engine failures, 6 were faulty maintenance, 9 were mid air collisions. 32 struck the ground flying at low level in poor weather conditions. Of the 37 fatalities 4 were clearly attributable to systems failures, all of the others were attributable to some form of pilot inattention.[10]

    The accident rate of the 104 compares favourably to its predecessor, the F-86 Sabre. In only 12 years of operation the F-86 had 282 class A accidents with a loss of 112 pilots. The Sabre was also a simpler aircraft and was flown at altitude.[11]

  • #2
    Intersting. However, such creativity almost sounds like it's a sign that something is wrong in the more conventional satellite launching world.

    Not to be missed, not so trivial trivia from that article:

    "A Starfighter pilot could reach 48,000ft (15 kilometres) in one minute, a feat still impressive 60 years later."

    Even on the ground, the plane could still be dangerous. Ground crew had to install safety caps on the leading edge of the wings – which were sharp enough to cut paper – to stop them injuring themselves.

    “We intend to have very fast times between ordering and launching,” says Still. “We aim for 30 days from order to launch, most launch providers work on the timescale of about 2-3 years from order to launch. A typical mission might be getting an order from a college to launch a cubesat into a specific orbit.
    Last edited by KC; 29-08-2016, 01:11 PM.


    • #3
      ^It's all a question of economics. Conventional space launch via large rockets is expensive, currently the rockets are expendable and not reused, requires a lot of man power and launch facilities. For smaller satellite payloads they are usually piggy backed with the launch of a larger payload. So you have to wait for an available slot to open up. With a likely backlog of launches the wait time measured in years.
      Did my dog just fall into a pothole???


      • #4
        ^Agreed, the big advantage with a jet over a rocket, is it doesn't need to carry oxygen to burn the fuel, up to that level of altitude. That means a smaller rocket can be fired to get into orbit. Its interesting using such a small old plane, which doesn't have a great safety record, to do it, but it certainly goes pretty high, 60,000 feet, and I guess can be purchased very cheap.
        Last edited by moahunter; 29-08-2016, 02:52 PM.


        • #5
          Another issue is the intended altitude of the smaller payload. Typically they are used to conduct research so they don't require a a high orbit and have a much shorter lifespan so they tend to reenter and burn up in the atmosphere. Larger more expensive payloads are meant to remain in orbit for decades so you cannot always piggyback such launches together.
          Did my dog just fall into a pothole???


          • #6
            A modified F-104 can hit well over 100,000 ft
            Last edited by Edmonton PRT; 29-08-2016, 05:15 PM.
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