Archive for August, 2008

Packages Away

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

When we head to the edge of space a lot of folks are flying with us. The big task after landing is getting everyones PongSats, ads, video and experiments back to them. This was quite the international mission. People flew with us from Australia, Canada (a lot from Canada), Belgium and Sweden and a few from the USA too.

I am very, very happy to let you know that all of the packages for all the participants have been sent out. They should all arrive to you shortly.

More Away 35 Pics

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Dale and Away 35              Last wind check
Unpacking at sunrise.           One last wind check.

and we’re off!

Flight of Away 35 Continued

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

We watch the temperature dive down for about 30 seconds. Now it’s nerve racking time. We have solid communication with the vehicle, but neither GPS that are tied into telemetry system have satellite lock. I jump out to the team tracking the beacon. It’s a big relief when they report strong signal and bearing. They’re following it all the way in.

From the balloon burst time, (and later with the camera images) the estimated peak altitude was 105,000 feet. We still need to review everything, however, I’m officially unimpressed by the new balloon. It should have easily cleared 120,000 feet with the helium volume we put in it. From the climb rate we know that the volume was correct.

Twenty-five minutes into the descent the beacon goes silent. We are down. The balloon team already has the fill equipment and launch bag broken down, (90 stakes pulled and over 100 bean bags removed). All that’s left to pack up is the antennas farm. After forty-five minutes we’re saddled up and rolling back to the town of Gerlach. We are now in search of data and weirdly enough we expect to find it over an ice tea in Bruno’s air conditioned restaurant.
We’re now cooled and watered and waiting for lunch. The laptops come out and we log on the to local wifi and check the mail. There is backup to the backup to the backup. This final system takes a GPS position every ten minutes, uploads it to a satellite. The data is then sent to us by e-mail. It’s close, 12 miles from Brunos and 3.5 miles off the road. The fact that the only approach is though something called “Wall Canyon” doesn’t really hit me yet. We download a high res image from google Earth that shows a good jeep trail in for the first mile.

Twelve miles up the highway and five miles down a gravel road and we’re there. What looked like a jeep trail is really a arroyo. After some scouting there is a jeep trail about a mile up the road. Dale takes his jeep and scouts it out. It does lead into the canyon, but it’s really rocky and walking up the better option. The mountain is a solid vertical face across twenty miles. Wall canyon looks like the only way in, but it’s late and well over 100 degrees. We’ve all be up since 3:30am and are in no shape to tackle it. Away 35 will have to wait till morning.

At dawn Kevin and I have all our gear loaded on our backs and we head in. The rest of the team are providing backup at the road. While on the jeep trail we make good time. After a mile we drop into the canyon. The plan is to follow the canyon through the pass. Away 35 is on a slope on the other side. The center of the canyon holds a creek that is choked with brush and juniper trees. The side are sheer walls, Oh, I get it, Wall Canyon. Our only choice is the gap between wall and creek. The hike turned into a climb. We were either on steep shale slides or climbing over boulders. Kevin got the technique down for lightly dancing over the shale runs. Your’s truly was a little unnerved by this as each step would cause a slide. The foot diameter shale chunks would tumble over the edge and explode after the long fall into the ravine. We came across two amazing pools, one with small fish. The scenes were stunning. The one small annoying detail was that each pool was fed by a waterfall that we needed to scale to move forward. For those of you that never think of waterfalls and pools and Blackrock at the same time, you really need to get off the lake bed more often.

After the second waterfall we could see the two pinnacles ahead that we needed to go through. Problem one, we were looking up at a 60 degree angle. Problem two, after we got off the jeep trail we’ve only made a half a mile in three hours. Problem three, the next rock face is impassable.

When we make it back to the cars we are beat and there’s no time for another attempt. The team must start back home.

We talked with Bruno before leaving. He says there is a back way in on the other side of the mountain, but he is very vague about the details. He’s insists “there’s a way in”.  We’ll be back.  More later.

Australia’s Astronaut

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

PongSat Astronaut

This brave Australian flew aboard Away 35 in PongSat “Capsule” 3208. He conducted film and shielding experiments in the same capsule.

Hurray for Vikesland!!!

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Away 35 Video

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

JPA on the Discovery Channel

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

On the front page of the new Discovery series, ‘Project Earth’ there is a great JPA video from the Away 36 mission.

Away 35 Mission

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Away 35 Morning Away 35 Antennas

Away 35 PongSats! Away 35 PongSats! Away 35 PongSats!

Away 35 Prep Away 35 Prep

Away 35 Balloon Prep Away 35 Music Sponsors!

There was a little excitement on the way to the launch site. A tire blew on the mission
control van pulling the trailer, in the mountains, on a curve with pretty heavy traffic all
speeding to Reno. The crew found a wide spot on the road and in 40 minutes we were
back heading for Blackrock.

Several of the team members couldn’t arrive till 2am the night before. So instead of
rolling from the motel at 4am we held till 5:30am.

We hit the lake bed like we had a purpose and soon antennas starting going up, the balloon
launch bag was being laid out, and the checklist for Away 35 was begun.

This was our first flight with the new 4000g balloon. It may be the first flight ever of this
balloon. The balloon fill went very smooth. The balloon bag was sized specifically for this balloon.
This is the size that we’re using on the Tandem airship. This mission was a chance to get
a feel for a balloon this big.

The launch went by the numbers. The Balloon Captain actually commands the launch.
It was Go, Tear, three steps then we were airborne. Once out of the launch bag the balloon
elongated about twice it’s “spherical length”. It was not a very good sign, however about four
seconds into flight is became a ball and up it went.

At 24,000 feet two of the GPS’s on board lost all satellites. This was very weird. The GPS’s
are different brands, connected to completely different telemetry systems and in entirely
different location on the vehicle. We were still talking to both GPS units. The communications
was great, just no satellites. The team confirmed that we still had a good bearing on the
beacon. With the strong beacon and backup satellite uplink GPS in good shape, we made
the decision to press on with the mission.

The Tandem motor systems test was going great. Every ten minutes we would send up
a command to spin up the motor. We would then query the vehicle for RPM, motor battery
voltage, external temperature and vehicle heading.

At 60,000 feet both GPS’s re-acquired satellite lock and started reporting position again.
The outside temperature was down to -55 degrees F, not too bad, we’ve flown through
-90 F before.

Away 35 should be 40 miles down range by now. Yet it’s still straight overhead. The winds
aloft measurements from the National Weather Service showed and 105 knot wind blowing
to the east at mid altitude. Apparently it wasn’t there. The vehicle it starting to drift
to the south west. We’re all hoping for an easterly turn. There is some very high and rough
terrain to the south west.

Our sigh of relief was short lived. At 65,000 we lost satellite lock again. Again it was at the
same time on two different systems. Even the cable are run separate! It’s easy to start
the guessing game on what has happened but we still have a mission to fly. We keep running
the experiments and testing comms. The external temperature sensor is out rough altimeter.
The vehicle is so close the team can still see the balloon with binoculars.The temperature outside
Away 35 is a toasty 4 degrees F. That info along with the climb rate means we’re somewhere
around 105,000 feet (The third backup GPS satellite uplink doesn’t give altitude).

There is a shout outside the mission control, the balloon has suddenly vanished. An inquire
to the vehicle shows the outside temperature is getting colder, we’re coming down.

I’m still completely wiped out from the recovery op. More tomorrow.

Away 35 Recovered!

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Away 35 at 100,000 feet

More news after the recovery guy recovers.

Away 35 Flies!

Monday, August 18th, 2008

The walkout.
In the background you can see the Burning Man festival being setup.

Launch Away 35 in flight

This is just a quick update. The mission is still in progress. We had a great flight. There were some very, very weird system issues in flight. All communication with the vehicle were great.

Away 35 landed on top of a range. Yesterday we got within 2.2 mile when our way was blocked by shear walls. We were free climbing and climbed through three waterfalls, however, we only cover a half a mile in three hours. Blackrock may look like it’s just a dusty desert, but if you get into the surrounding canyons there are deep pools, streams and amazing ravines with 300 foot high shear walls.

By the time we climbed out there wasn’t enough time for another attempt. Tomorrow we’ll be back. I’ll be approaching from the other side of the range. We got a tip from Bruno himself that there is a way in.

We’re off

Friday, August 15th, 2008

Three hundred miles East, ninety miles North,

then 24 miles straight up.

Our Music Sponsors

Friday, August 15th, 2008

Here’s the lid to the main telemetry system on Away 35.

Music Sponsors

It’s the beat that keeps us going.

What it will look like.

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

Away 32
Away 32 just after lift off.

JPA up high
The view from a mission last spring.

All the little things

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

The final camera test looks good. I won’t know for sure until I review the images. Seven camera, 409 images each all looking at clocks. It’s going to take a lot of David Bowie and Space Vacuum to get through that pile.

There was a glitch in the backup balloon release system. The computer reset when the release heater came on. This means it never got to the release itself. It looks like it was just a low battery issue coupled with the incorrect heater installed for the test. However just to be safe I’m going to do a modification on the circuit to “lock” the computer on. This does mean another round of testing today.

The helium tanks all got checked. The team is really good about marking the tanks as full, used or empty, however, I hate dragging empties to the desert so each one gets rechecked.

A lot of you have e-mailed in. I must apologizes for my delay in replying. I’ve fall just a bit behind. I will get back to you soon.

Away 35 Pictures

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Away 35    Away 35   Away 35

Away 35    Away 35    Away 35

Away 35     Away 35