L. Gordon Cooper Jr. and Charles Conrad Jr. will attempt a vital rendezvous experiment during?
L. Gordon Cooper Jr. and Charles Conrad Jr. will attempt a vital rendezvous experiment during an early part of their GT-5 (Gemini - Titan 5) flight. The two men will release a small satellite from their spacecraft and then, using sophisticated radar equipment, will attempt to close within a few feet of it.
The satellite is called the "REP" for Rendezvous Evaluation Pod. It will be carried in the GT-5 spacecraft. It is planned for the REP to be released when the spacecraft is over Africa on its second orbit. (The REP and the spacecraft will, at that moment, be travelling in the same orbit.) Conrad and Cooper will maneuver their spacecraft to change its orbit, leaving it about 11 miles below and 20 miles behind the REP.
The REP carriers equipment which will accept a radar signal from the spacecraft, amplify it, and beam it back. It also carries two flashing lights. The astronauts will make radar contact with the REP, and then a computer aboard the spacecraft, using the radar information, will help the astronauts manoeuvre themselves back into the same orbit as the REP. Such a manoeuvre is quite complicated. If the REP is ahead of the spacecraft, and the astronauts simply speed up to overhaul it, their orbital diameter will increase and the spacecraft, far from overhauling the REP, will rise above it. Thus a series of maneuvers are required at precise points in the orbit to alter its characteristics to match those of the REP. A similar attempt was carried out on the GT-4 mission when the astronauts attempted to rendezvous with the upper stage of their launch vehicle, without the aid of radar or the spacecraft's computer. The attempt used too much fuel and was abandoned.
Once the spacecraft has been maneuvered by computer into the same orbit as the REP, the astronauts are expected to be able to see the flashing lights on it. It is hoped that the last portion of the maneuver can be carried out visually. Once the spacecraft comes within a few feet of the REP and can be held in position, the experiment is over. The spacecraft will the be blasted away from the REP and will continue the mission. The REP is expected to orbit for three days and burn up on re-entering the atmosphere.
If the experiment is successful, radar devices similar to those on the REP will be incorporated into an Agena rocket. The Agena will be fired at about the same time the GT-6 mission is launched next January, and the GT-6 astronauts will attempt to rendezvous with it. Successful rendezvous is essential for future space flights.