WSMR Engineers from Information Management pose for a photo in front of the new telemetry trackers that will be used to collect data during test. WSMR Engineers, Pabel Corral, fare left, and Duke Yasuda, left, worked with UTEP graduate students to create a filter for the new tracker. Photo by Filiberto Macias
White Sands Missile Range Electronic Engineers are working together with local university students to determine a solution for lost bandwidth accrued by commercial cell phone companies in 2015.
The collaboration between the University of Texas at El Paso and WSMR allows students to gain hands-on experience and for the installation to gain the research information necessary to create a viable solution for lost bandwidth, which is vital for obtaining test mission data.
"We're still scratching the surface," said Fil Macias, WSMR supervisor electronics engineer. "We're trying to figure out, what are the limitations and challenges and trying to figure out what the future holds."
WSMR now has to work more efficiently with less bandwidth to be able to gather test data among encroaching cell phone technology. Bandwidth is vital for telemetry on the range, which helps determine real-time solutions for flight safety and helps assess what went wrong and what went well.
"I think it's one of our most important sensors," Macias said. "It's an important source of information. The reason we're here is to collect data."
Macias and his team of engineers from the Information Management Directorate to include Pabel Corral and Duke Yasuda, have been working with UTEP Electrical Engineering graduate students to develop a model for a rejection filter that is placed on a telemetry antenna, which monitors LTE frequencies in an effort to reduce interference during a test mission. In order to properly obtain data during a test mission, the team concluded they must work at higher frequencies; however, higher frequency means greater challenges to collect data. Currently the installation uses what is known as a legacy Spectrum Monitoring System, which works to protect the range's spectrum by tracking interference and providing Radio Frequency data. Macias said the new telemetry tracker will not only provide current capabilities of the old system but will also provide real-time interference tracking capabilities.
"The students are helping model the filters, and in doing so, are developing an automated test framework capable of presenting varying spectrum conditions," Macias said. "The information gathered…will provide the team with the necessary information to make adjustments to systems that will become part of the WSMR telemetry operations."
There are also 24 sensor arrays, known as data nodes, which are implemented throughout the range to collect spectrum data in an effort to help predict real-time interference. The new tracker has already been tested in recent test missions like Patriot, Black Brant and Black Dagger. The new system has provided positive results, even in its early stages. The project is expected to be completed in the spring of 2019.
"Our teams have been working diligently getting this new capability and have done an exceptional job of engineering and integration," Macias said.
Corral and Yasuda have been working with UTEP engineering graduate students Pablo Rangel, Juan Gonzalez, Jose Castillo and Mizra Mohammad since March 2016. There were never more than three students on the project, and when a student would graduate another student would be brought in. Rangel went on to obtain his PhD and is currently working as an associate professor at the Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi. Gonzalez obtained his master's degree while working on the project and moved to Austin, Texas, where he accepted a position at Intel. He worked so closely with Corral and Yasuda that he even invited them to join his thesis committee.
"It was a great collaboration," Gonzalez said. "Usually when you're in school you never really know what you want to do until you're exposed to it…I want to thank them for giving us that opportunity. It was great the range opened up that partnership with us.
The student contributions help the team understand conditions where the telemetry capability could experience interference due to internal or external signals emanating from a commercial wireless service.
"As wireless applications grow, so do the number of devices, networks and systems vying for the communications spectrum," he said. "This could pose a challenge."
The WSMR IM team is also working with Range Operations and Army Research and Laboratory for facets of the project. The collaboration with UTEP students was made possible through the academic partnership between the ARL Open Campus Program under the leadership of Patrick Debroux, an electronics engineer.
Corral and Yasuda said the partnership with the students not only provided them with an opportunity to teach college students, it also taught them a lot. Aside from having to learn to use the new filter being designed, Corral said they learned a lot in terms of new technology.
"It was like going back to school," Corral said. "It went both ways, we learned and they learned," Yasuda said.
The partnership with UTEP also serves as a cost-saving form of research because Macias said he is able to validate tracking performance without having to schedule a missile shot.
"This way we have been able to verify the system by introducing numerous conditions," he said. "By the time it gets into the hands of the test operator, we know it will work."
In 2015, 25 MHz was the first band allocation to be auctioned off for commercial use. Prior to 2010, the spectrum was allocated for the installation's use and no other entity was allowed to access the band. Since 2010, the spectrum has become ideal for cell technology and the FCC developed a National Broadband Plan calling for 500 MHz to be sold off in an effort to promote economic growth.
WSMR Commander Brig. Gen. Eric Sanchez visited the students at UTEP in May to emphasize his dedication to the partnership between local universities and the range.
The project has four objectives; becoming more efficient with less spectrum, improving telemetry's recovery to be more efficient, supporting different frequency bands and improving the way bandwidth is managed through Dynamic Spectrum Managing.
"We've got to start getting smarter about sharing and coexisting," Macias said. "We expect telemetry will evolve just like cell phone technology has evolved." Macias said he is confident the range will have an entirely new telemetry and spectrum capability by this time next year.
"We've actually gone back to our engineering principles," he said. "We're confident it's going to work."