Building on work initiated in 1996, SEA CORP has explored the use of commercial automotive airbag inflators as a source of energy for launching special purpose payloads in air and water. The inflators have many advantages as a source of propulsion energy; they are inexpensive, environmentally friendly, non-explosive, 100% reliable and have a shelf-life of more than twenty years.
The earliest stages of SEA CORP’s research and development were designed to prove that the inflators, originally designed to inflate a zero-mass balloon (the airbag), could effectively propel a projectile from a launch tube at desired acceleration and velocities. This was first proven in a series of three test launches of a six-inch diameter projectile in March 1996. This demonstration successfully completed Phase I of a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Project.
With the unqualified success of Phase I, the Company was awarded a Phase II contract to scale-up the results to launch torpedoes weighing as much as 760 pounds and to demonstrate that the launches could be controlled to provide specified and selectable acceleration and velocity. Models were developed to simulate and analyze various combinations of inflators, timing and payloads. Eight test launches in 1997 and 1998 used actual surface vessel torpedo tubes and various types of dummy and exercise torpedoes, in some cases also using actual shipboard fire-control systems. These tests were also fully successful and validated the concept for use aboard Navy ships.
Based on the success of the Phase II Project, the Navy awarded a Phase III development contract to SEA CORP in 2000 to fully explore the feasibility of installing the improved launchers (in several versions) on surface combatants. An additional ten launches were conducted in 2002 to further refine launch parameters and to test specific components for actual shipboard systems. This program continued with additional funding provided in FY 2003 to complete engineering development and qualify the torpedo launcher for service use.
Excellent progress continues to be made on this project. During the spring of 2004 SEA CORP installed and tested the Advanced Surface Launcher (ASL) aboard the Martha’s Vineyard High Speed Ferry “MILLENNIUM”. This test was an unqualified success conducting 31 launches of torpedo and countermeasure shapes over a five day period, at speeds up to 35 knots. Late in 2004 and into early 2005 SEA CORP designed and built the mounting system and tested the launcher on board an 11 meter Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB). This test was also highly successful with nine torpedo shape and three countermeasure shape launches conducted.
In 2001, SEA CORP performed an Internal Research and Development (IRAD) project to explore the use of inflators as a means for launching smaller shipboard countermeasures and decoys. This project, the Surface Combatant Auxiliary Launcher (SCAL), funded and executed entirely by SEA CORP, designed, built and test-fired a nominal four inch diameter launcher to approximate the launch characteristics of future anti-torpedo decoy programs. The SCAL project is especially pertinent because of the similarity of the projectile to a sonobuoy. Fifteen successful launches were conducted, again with no failures. In 2002, SEA CORP was awarded U.S. Patent 6,418,870 for an improved “Torpedo Launch Mechanism and Method.”
Work continues on other potential applications for this technology. In 2003, SEA CORP was awarded another separate, but related SBIR contract to develop a launcher system for helicopters. Dubbed the “AGILE Sonobuoy Launcher,” this new system will improve the U.S. Navy’s ability to launch special sensors from its helicopters throughout the world’s oceans to find submarines and conduct oceanographic research and analysis.