Project BLACKBEARD: What is it?
Blackbeard technical outline
BLACKBEARD is a Los Alamos National Laboratory Radio Frequency (RF) detection experiment that shares power and onboard computer/memory/data storage resources with the ALEXIS satellite payload. The spin-stabilized satellite, launched April 25, 1993, has a significant wobble caused by a damaged solar panel.
The damage also left ALEXIS unable to provide precise information about its orientation as it was originally designed to do. Because of the initial damage to ALEXIS, the team could not contact the satellite for the first six weeks after launch, causing them to fear it was lost. Initial orbital data proved not to be accurate, and a Los Alamos NIS-1 team was tasked with tracking both the supposed orbital object and a nearby payload carrying a VHF beacon. Dan Holden and his LAPP crew, using a large trailer mounted parabolic dish antenna, determined that the object being tracked by the ground station was NOT Alexis/Blackbeard but a nearby non-active orbital object. Correct tracking parameters were then used which resulted in eventual contact with and control of the spacecraft. After making contact, the team was able to assess the
onboard damage and develop alternate procedures for controlling the satellite and its experiments. Blackbeard was able to begin operations almost as soon as the onboard batteries reached viable charge states, since the spacecraft wobble has no noticeable effect on the relatively non directional antennas used.
LANL Team Leader and researcher W .T. "Tom" Armstrong spearheaded the design and construction of the Blackbeard payload.
Dan Holden has been leading the Blackbeard team until September 1995. The current Blackbeard team includes Bob Massey, project leader, and Jim Devenport.
The satellite is controlled from a small ground station at Los Alamos.