Although we didn't actually get to launch because of a last minute technical difficulty, this was by far the quickest and most efficient we've ever been. Congrats all around.
Our current hypothesis of what happened: the ATV power amplifier was spewing broadband radiation which saturated the wifi and 2m receivers on the rocket. We've run these systems dozens of times, but never on the actual launch rail: it's possible that the launch rail coupled the antennas in mysterious way and saturated the receivers. We'll do some experiments later this month and try to find out what happened.
We talked about what we could have possibly done better the last (almost) launch:
- Prepacking the rocket before the trip to the launch site:
- Just the recovery system: would need a safe box for the pyrotechnics
- Possibly prepacking the entire rocket, minus nose cone?
- Tripod holder for TrackMaster 2000 during launch prep
- A box for the PSAS server, which would have all of the wiring ready to go
- Replace the PSAS server with a laptop or something smaller
- Rocket holder for Brian's truck... no more holding it in our laps :)
- Tower checklist - tools, checkouts, etc. This wasted a lot of time.
- Some mechanism to short or open the motor igniter circuit on the LTC from a distance away... maybe just extend the LTC cords to 50' - 100' instead of 25'
- Plan recovery teams farther in advance.
It would be interesting to know the absolute minimum number of people required to carry out a launch. Guessing from the list of stations on the CurrentCheckList (and assuming recovery teams are unnecessary), the number is 7. Knowing that, the question is, "how could we streamline operations enough to be done quickly by those few people?". To go to a similar extreme with the time frame, could we setup everything in less than 1 hour? Obviously we can't now, but there must be a way. ;)
What if we could keep as much as possible of the infrastructure together during periods between launches? That might be useful as we start doing launches more frequently and want to be able to reduce prep time to a minimum. Besides reducing time spent gathering things in the day(s) before launch, it should reduce time spent finding things on the launch day if everything is kept together and organized by station. The ideal situation (er, dream) is to have a mid size utility van with desk(s) bolted in and laptops and electronics permanently installed so we just park, extend antennas and raise tower from trailer, and launch. What is the feasibility of using the launch control module (the army truck thing) for something like that?
Make a dependency chart of everything needing to happen before launch, and use that to figure out what can be done in parallel.
Have a person in charge of each element of setup. Try to minimize the number of people standing around doing nothing. This might all be practiced at the system test day in the week before the launch date.
For all the people that can't be used (e.g. folks not involved but interested in watching), come up with a suggested list of fun things to do in town (Bend is only 20 miles away) and tell them we'll call when we're really ready ("we're going to push the launch button now... we'll give you 40 minutes to get here"). Maybe that would be too much time for the rocket crew to wait, but it might be worth it considering folks spent hours in a car and shouldn't have to spend hours standing around doing nothing. We could also use the wait period to make sure the rocket stays good for launch, and to prep and deploy the recover teams etc.
Another possibility for spectators: set up a microtheatre at the launch site and play movies (we should already have the chairs for everyone, we just need the screen + projector). Actually, if this is possible it would be really cool, because when we're really ready for launch we can hook up the ATV video to the projector so everyone can see the rocket-view really well. Possibly even show a copy of the launchcontrol and rocketview screens on half the projector so people can really see what is going on. So 3/4 the screen is used for launchcontrol, rocketview, and the rocket's camera, and then we could get the last 1/4 hooked up to the camera(s) aimed at the rocket during takeoff.
Then we all ate pizza and watched a Discovery Channel show on Wiki:SpaceShipOne, Burt Rutan's private space plane. It was a great show, with lots of interesting technical details - thanks to Jay for suggesting we watch it and bringing a DVD!