The Rocket City
In the early stages of World War II, Huntsville, Ala., was selected by the U.S. War Department as a prime location for the manufacture and storage of chemical warfare munitions. The new Huntsville Arsenal was soon neighbored by the addition of the Redstone Ordnance Plant. Later, the two were officially merged together as the Redstone Arsenal and have since continued to serve as a highly respected resource with our national defense. After the war ended, a team of German rocket scientists, led by pioneer Dr. Wernher von Braun, came in to promote the U.S. military’s Ordnance Guided Missile Center. His team developed the rocket that orbited the first U.S. satellite on January 31, 1958.1 Later that year, the announcement came that the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) would oversee all non-military related space research.2
In 1960, NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) was established on a 1,200 acre site within the Redstone Arsenal.3 Dr. von Braun became the first director of the organization where the rockets were designed sending man to the moon. Later, MSFC was where the propulsion systems for the space shuttle program were developed and modules for the International Space Station were designed and built, and it is where the next generation of spacecraft, the Space Launch Systems (SLS), are now being developed.
In May 2003, officials with the Geospatial Training and Application Center (GTAC), then a division of the USSRC, installed a continuously operating reference station (CORS).5 This station would be installed and monitored at the USSRC facility while having an operating range of approximately 50 miles. Its purpose is to track incoming data from GPS satellites, manage this data while serving GPS users, work to recover the data needed for post processing, and retransmission of the data which is used for real-time field positioning.6 In 2005, a statewide initiative was launched to establish a network of CORS sites throughout Alabama. The goal of the initiative is to provide a consistent network of GPS correction signal data, to advance its availability, have timely distribution, and to encourage the widespread use of GPS correction data and technology for many statewide applications. This cooperative effort with the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (USSRC), National Geodetic Survey (NGS), Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT), and The Alabama Society of Professional Land Surveyors (ASPLS) serves many beneficiaries including engineering, land surveying, geospatial sciences, state and local governments, agriculture, natural resource management, environmental services, public utilities, water and sewer boards, law enforcement, mining operations, construction, emergency management, and homeland security.7
The CORS located at the USSRC is a Leica GPS Reference Station, but it is compatible with all major makes of GPS survey equipment. The GPS data used for post processing is stored in the industry standard RINEX (Receiver Independent Exchange) file format. Data for real time GPS out in the field can be exported in other various formats including RTCM, CMR, and Leica Standard. This ensures its support for Leica, Ashtech, Trimble, Topcon, Javad, and other brands of GPS equipment used for a wide range of applications.8
Dr. Werhner von Braun was a true visionary when it came to space exploration. After making it through the tensions of World War II, his work with the U.S. government eventually landed him and his team at Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal. Since then, our country has benefitted from the advancement of resulting technology while Huntsville’s role with the launching of our nation’s space program has earned it the nick-name of “The Rocket City.” Today, the continued teamwork of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the Geospatial Training and Applications Center, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Marshal Space Flight Center and other various agencies follows von Braun’s scientific logic by working to organize the necessary resources and develop the right solutions. Huntsville’s continued role with aerospace technology supports ongoing success with many geospatial applications including GPS surveying, GIS, and other related mapping sciences. These and other disciplines can all benefit from the use of ground-based CORS and the accuracy it brings forth. With its enhanced degree of precision here on earth, the sky is truly the limit.
References1. Davis, Jan, Introduction, “Huntsville – Madison County: To The Edge of The Universe,” Memphis, TN. Towery Publishing. 1999.
2. Nicaise, Placide D., “Huntsville and the von Braun Rocket Team: The Real Story,” Monterey, CA. Scientists and Friends.
3. Dunar, Andrew J. and Stephen P. Waring, “Power to Explore: A History of Marshall Space Flight Center 1960-1990,” Washington, DC. NASA. 1999.
4. “The birth of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.” 29 Nov 2011, www.rocketcenter.com/mu/history.
5. “Continuously Operating Reference Station (CORS).” 29 Nov 2011, www.gstac.com/cors.htm.
For more information about USSRC and GTAC, visit www.ussrc.com and www.gstac.org.