It Doesn’t Take a Rocket Scientist…

The X-51A Waverider is designed to ride on its own shockwavem and accelerate to about Mach 6. (Air Force)

The X-51A Waverider is designed to ride on its own shockwavem and accelerate to about Mach 6. (Air Force)

This blog post was shared with us by the Chemical Propulsion Information Analysis Center (CPIAC). It is the 14th entry in our 22-part series produced by the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC).

Improving efficiency and expediency when resources are scarce is hardly a new concept. In fact, pick any point in history, and you’ll hear people talking about how they’ve faced similar constraints. Striving for efficiencies in the face of constraints may be an age-old concept, but it’s as important today as it ever was. Reflecting on past successes can remind us of what we can achieve and allow for us to take a fresh look at why we were able to do so.

In the rocket propulsion community, one of our greatest successes is a continuing drive for joint agency collaboration. This is especially true in the development and fielding of new technologies. Why is joint agency collaboration so important you may ask? Because there are few among us who haven’t had that moment in their career when we finally realized that someone else, somewhere out there, was working on the same problem we were – and if we were lucky, they had already solved it, and if very lucky, that they were willing to share. In a time when resources are scarce, joint agency collaboration connects people by tearing down walls and allows for the transition from “silo” to “community.”

However, collaboration is not without its challenges. How do you find others working on the same problem as you? How do you convince them to share? Here lies one of those frustrating intersections of engineering, organizational structure, and cultural sociology. Despite all the frustration, the rocket propulsion community has greatly benefited from those willing to set aside their differences and work together for the betterment of the community.

Get the current CPIAC Bulletin!

Get the current CPIAC Bulletin!

For example, back in 1946, Commander (later Admiral) Levering Smith and Dr. Ralph E. Gibson of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab recommended establishing the first Rocket Propellant Information Agency (RPIA) to promote the rapid circulation of technical information and to consolidate, organize and catalog the inventory of rocket propellant wartime reports. RPIA would eventually go on to become the Chemical Propulsion Information Analysis Center (CPIAC), now home to the most comprehensive chemical propulsion scientific and technical reports collection in the world. At the core of CPIAC’s historical relationship and one of the centerpieces for rocket propulsion development, is the interagency organizational known as JANNAF (Joint Army-Navy-NASA-Air Force Interagency Propulsion Committee). JANNAF now has over 50 years of heritage in joint agency collaboration in rocket propulsion.

So what’s been accomplished in fifty years of collaboration? Here are just a few of the many storied examples.

  • The same technologies that put men on the moon for NASA fueled the sentinels of nuclear deterrence in the silos of Titan and Atlas.
  • The safety, handling and environmental procedures developed for the earliest Army Nike-Zeus Interceptors have been adapted by NASA and the Air Force to ensure that communications satellites are successfully put into orbit.
  • Rocket motor propellants and energetics first developed for tactical missiles are now used for aircraft ejection seats, launch vehicle termination systems, and automotive airbags.

Especially today, the impact of these collaborations is directly evident in many critical and flagship programs

  • The X-51 hypersonic demonstrator relies heavily on JANNAF fostered technical collaboration between DARPA, the Air Force and NASA; and is paving the way for operationally response missions of unprecedented capability. CPIAC supports X-51 activities by providing scramjet propulsion expertise and leading multi-agency technical interchanges and workshops to review and disseminate information and data.
  • Cross agency research between NASA, the Air Force and the commercial industry on the Hydrocarbon Boost (HCB) Engine Program is enabling the Space and Missile Command to reduce the risk and end reliance on Russian made main engines on the Atlas launch vehicle fleet. CPIAC supports the HCB program through active participation in design reviews and by leading the development and analysis of high performance rocket grade kerosene for use in the system.

These examples and countless others have saved incalculable time and resources.

So then, what have we learned from fifty years of collaboration? It all boils down to three things: communication, trust, and community. While the first two may seem obvious, we often don’t leverage the value of the third; and that is the crux of those fifty years – community. Community enables communication. Community enables trust. Community enables the passage of decades of knowledge to the next generation. Community encourages us to transfer knowledge across organization boundaries.

JANNAF and CPIAC are at the heart of the rocket propulsion community and their strong working relationship continues to drive increased efficiencies and expediencies especially in an environment where resources are becoming scarce.

The Chemical Propulsion Information Analysis Center (CPIAC) is one of ten Information Analysis Centers (IACs) established by DOD and managed by the Defense Technical Information Center. CPIAC is the DOD Center of Excellence responsible for acquiring, archiving, analyzing, synthesizing, and disseminating scientific and technical information related to system and component level technologies for chemical, electrical, and nuclear propulsion for rockets, missiles, and space and gun propulsion systems. CPIAC also provided technical and administrative support for the Joint Army-Navy-NASA-Air Force Interagency Propulsion Committee (JANNAF).

Interested in learning more or working with CPIAC on an upcoming effort? CPIAC can be reached via the IAC website

This entry was posted in Physical Sciences, STEM and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to It Doesn’t Take a Rocket Scientist…

  1. augustus says:

    fantastic blog! keep up the good work CPIAC and JANNAF!