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MISTRAM (MISsile TRAjectory Measurement) was a high-resolution tracking system used by the United States Air Force (and later NASA) to provide highly detailed trajectory analysis of rocket launches.

A "classic" ranging system used since the 1960s uses radar to time a radio signal's travel to a target (in this case, the rocket) and back. This technique is accurate to approximately 1%. The accuracy of this technique is limited by the need to create a sharp "pulse" of radio so that the start of the signal can be accurately defined. There are both practical and theoretical limits to the sharpness of the pulse. In addition, the timing of the signals often introduced inaccuracies of its own until the introduction of high precision clocks.

In MISTRAM, this was avoided by broadcasting a continuous signal. The basic system used a ground station located down range from the launch site (at Valkaria, Florida and Eleuthera Island, Bahamas) and a transponder on the vehicle. The tracking station transmitted an X-band carrier signal which the transponder responded to by re-broadcasting it on another (shifted) frequency. By slowly changing the frequency of the carrier broadcast from the station and comparing this with the phase of the signal being returned, ground control could measure the distance to the vehicle very accurately. Even with the analog circuitry used, MISTRAM was accurate to less than 1 km at the distance of the moon.

To meet more stringent ballistic missile test requirements, several systems were designed, procured and added to the US Air Force Eastern Range's instrumentation in the 1950s and 1960s. The AZUSA continuous wave tracking system was added to the Cape in the mid-1950s and Grand Bahama in the early 1960s. The AN/FPS-16 radar system was introduced at the Cape, Grand Bahama, San Salvador, Ascension and East Grand Bahama Island between 1958 and 1961. In the early 1960s, the MISTRAM (Missile Trajectory Measurement) system was installed at Valkaria, Florida and Eleuthera island in the Bahamas to support Minuteman missile flights.


Principles of Operation

MISTRAM is a sophisticated interferometer system consisting of a group of five receiving stations arranged in an L shape. Baselines are 10,000 ft. and 100,000 ft. The central stations contains a simple tracking antenna. The distance from the central station to the furthest remote station is approximately 100,000 ft. Antennas at the central station and the four remote stations follow the flight of a missile and receive signals from its radio beacon.

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