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.