David Levinson on The Explorer I Anomaly

by Jason Moore


David Levinson gave a nice talk this past week on the dynamics of the Explorer 1. The United States first rocket to launch a satellite in orbit. I posted the talk online for viewing.

David Levinson who wrote two nice books with Thomas Kane, of which I’ve spent a great deal of time reading over the years spoke this week at UCD. Check out the talk:

The Explorer I Anomaly

David A. Levinson
Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company

UC Davis Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Seminar
Date: 15 November 2012 Thursday Time: 4:10-5:00 pm 


On January 31, 1958, the United States Army Ballistic Missile Agency successfully launched America’s first satellite, Explorer I, into orbit around the Earth. As is well known, not only did this achieve the political goal of putting the United States back in the space race it was losing badly to the Soviet Union, but instruments onboard Explorer I sent back the first data revealing the existence of the Van Allen radiation belts — a major scientific triumph. What is not so well known is that Explorer I also made its mark in aerospace engineering lore by exhibiting an attitude motion anomaly that none of the extensive  published literature from the previous two centuries of research on rigid body dynamics had accounted for.

During this talk, the anomaly will be described in detail, and, through the use of modern-day dynamics simulation tools, including animation, the principles of mechanics underlying what happened will be discussed in terms suitable for a general audience. The consequences for later spacecraft design from what was learned from the Explorer I anomaly will be explained.

About the Speaker

David Levinson currently holds the position of Senior Staff Research Engineer at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, based in Sunnyvale, California. Most of his work has been in the area of dynamics of complex mechanical systems, such as  multibody spacecraft, robotic devices, and aerospace mechanisms. Over the years, he has been the recipient of numerous engineering awards, among them the American  Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) San Francisco Section Engineer of the Year Award in Astronautics, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Santa Clara Valley Section Distinguished Mechanical Engineer Award, the American Astronautical Society Outstanding Achievement Award, and the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company President’s Award. He has numerous journal publications and is a coauthor of two McGraw-Hill textbooks — one on Spacecraft Dynamics, and the other on Dynamics: Theory and Applications. He also coauthored three desktop-published textbooks on Dynamics. He is a Fellow of both the American Astronautical Society and the ASME, and is an Associate Fellow of the AIAA.

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