2013 IR&D Annual Report

TALS (Tactical Aerobotic Launch System) Evaluation and Demonstration,

Principal Investigators
William D. Perry
David Lopez
Michael L. Fortenberry

Inclusive Dates: 10/10/12 – 02/10/13

Background — The process for inflating and launching most Lighter-than-Air (LTA) systems presently requires a large paved or grassy area that is clear of obstructions, where the hull can be unpacked and laid out in preparation for inflation. This process typically must be conducted inside a very large hangar or outdoors under very low wind conditions since these hulls can be several hundred feet in length and made from very lightweight material. Inflating and launching takes time, leaving the hull at risk of damage from wind gusts. Usually it requires large handling equipment, along with an experienced launch team to get the LTA system launched without damage. Most military applications would prefer to deploy LTA systems quickly from remote unimproved sites, with minimum personnel with limited training. This is not possible using current inflation and launch processes.

SwRI devised the Tactical Aerobotic Launch System (TALS) concept for rapidly launching LTA systems from a self-contained package that provides inflation, stabilization, protection and finally release. TALS can be operated by a small team and will provide remote-controlled or autonomously launching of LTA systems on command. The concept is adaptable to launching balloons, airships and aerostats. In February 2012, SwRI completed an internal research project to develop this concept to address the need for a method of quickly launching LTA vehicles. Under project 15-R8226, the concept for the TALS was completed along with a working 35-percent scale demonstration model. The TALS demonstrator was tested extensively in the laboratory to verify function of the control system and software, but the team only conducted two field tests under light wind conditions. While these tests were mostly successful with only a few problems, it was clear that the system was not ready to be demonstrated and additional testing and refinements were needed. This project was awarded in October 2012 to fund additional testing and preparation for an on-site demonstration.

Approach — The goal of this project was to refine the TALS hardware and software in preparation for a demonstration of the systems. A series of lab and field tests would be conducted to evaluate the performance under a range of conditions, resulting in changes to the system to improve the reliability and performance.

This project was conducted in three phases:

  • Upgrade the TALS based on results of earlier field tests.
  • Conduct additional tests under a variety of wind conditions and refine TALS based on the results.
  • Conduct demonstration for representatives of the military.

The figure below shows the automated inflation and launch sequence during the TALS demonstration.

Image: TALS Demonstration of an Automated Inflation and Launch of an Airship
TALS Demonstration of an Automated Inflation and Launch of an Airship

Accomplishments — Under this project, TALS was upgraded and 20 laboratory tests and 4 field demonstrations of the TALS were conducted. A TALS demonstration video was produced and distributed. This project allowed for additional field testing under a variety of wind conditions. It also allowed the TALS operations to be refined to reduce the risk of problems during the formal demonstration. An on-site live demonstration of the 35-percent scale TALS for representatives from the Department of Defense encompassing the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The live demonstration was canceled due to travel restrictions for DOD personnel resulting from the "sequester." A video of the TALS demonstration was distributed to the DOD representatives and was received with great interest. SwRI was asked to submit an estimate for building and demonstrating a full-scale TALS.

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Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a multidisciplinary, independent, nonprofit, applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization with 9 technical divisions.