Engineers work to better monitor missile health

Stephen Marotta watches as Stephen Horowitz displays a fully functional prototype MEMs sensor
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By Evelyn Teats


REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. — The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s (RDECOM) aviation and missile center is leveraging micro-electro-mechanical systems research in a new application to detect potentially damaging vibrations encountered by missiles during handling, transport and operation.

Stephen Marotta, Engineering Directorate project principal investigator, said MEMS research has been ongoing at Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center for many years and many different applications have been successfully transitioned from the lab to the Soldier in the field.

In an effort to improve missile health monitoring, Marotta began collaborating with Mohan Sanghadasa, from AMRDEDC’s Weapons Development and Integration Directorate, and Stephen Horowitz, an engineer with Ducommun Miltec.

The AMRDEC team is using technology, both current and in-development, to design a new MEMS sensor that will offer several benefits over current missile health monitoring systems.

“We’ve spent a number of years developing acoustic sensors, microphones based on piezoelectric materials,” Horowitz said, “and there’s not a huge difference between designing a microphone and designing a vibration sensor and accelerometers. It’s a different structure, a different geometry, but we use the same fabrication processes to create them. On our first generation sensor, we used the same materials even.”

One benefit of the new design is extended battery life.

Current missile health monitoring methods require a lot of power, because they collect vibration data at all frequencies. Research, however, has shown that the greatest risk for damage to missiles occurs during low vibration — under 200 hertz. The AMRDEC team is designing a sensor that only collects low frequency data and is capable of switching on and off, thus extending the battery’s life.

Marotta said the MEMS work meets the challenge set by AMRDEC director for missile development Steve Cornelius to get new capabilities into the hands of Soldiers, to leverage technology solutions that increase readiness, and to enable more affordable weapons.

“Applied research, led by the AMRDEC Engineering Directorate, is addressing those many challenges in an integrated fashion with other AMRDEC directorates, other RDECs, and other services to sustain its missile systems as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Marotta said. “AMRDEC science and technology for monitoring of missile health or condition improves the accuracy of readiness reporting and reduces the overall missile sustainment burden. AMRDEC is making a positive impact with current technology transitions at present, as well as greatly benefiting future systems.”

A prototype of the sensor should be complete later this year with transition into the field expected in 2014.

The team reported its research in a paper published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, “A Low Frequency MEMS Vibration Sensor for Low Power Missile Health Monitoring.” The paper was nominated for best paper at the 2013 IEEE conference.

AMRDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America’s Soldiers.

RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army’s premier provider of materiel readiness — technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment — to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.