Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Well, I think this is going to be the last installment of this edition of EBEX In Flight. I'm told the gondola has returned to Fort Sumner, and the remaining crew are working hard to disassemble it and pack the pieces up for shipment back to Minnesota and Columbia.

I'd like to thank you, dear reader, for following along. Google Analytics tells me that the blog had 892 unique visitors over the course of the past ~3 months, with a peak of 171 visits on launch day and 175 the day after. We have plenty of work to do in analyzing the data for this flight and getting ready for the next one -- a 2-week flight from Antarctica -- and you can be sure that I'll be blogging that one too.

Until next time...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Day 83, 6/15/09 -- Farewell, Fort Sumner.

Today, Milligan, Jeff, and I left Fort Sumner. We flew Frontier Airlines, on a jet with a rabbit mascot named Stu. Get it? Rabbit Stu. Yeah.

There's a skeleton crew left behind to meet the gondola when it arrives, disassemble, and pack. The CSBF recovery crew got the gondola on the truck and it is scheduled to arrive back in Fort Sumner tomorrow afternoon/evening.

I'm...going to get some gyros. And falafel.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Day 82, 6/14/09 -- Last day in Fort Sumner

Today was pretty relaxing for me. After the recovery adventure the past few days, I decided that other people could deal with packing up the stuff in the high bay. The gondola is still sitting out in the desert in AZ; they won't be able to get any equipment in until tomorrow, so it probably won't be back in Fort Sumner until Wednesday.

Ilan, Dan, Kyle, and Kate are sticking around to help pack up the cryostat once the gondola gets back. Jeff, Milligan, and I are flying back to Minnesota on Monday.

Nothing really worth taking pictures of today.

Day 81, 6/12/09 -- Recovery tales

First, what everyone is dying to know: No, we don't have the payload back yet. The soil near where EBEX landed is very loose and sandy, and the recovery truck actually got stuck, digging its rear tire into a nice hole about half the diameter of the tire and they had to call a tow truck to help pull it out. Recovery of the gondola is waiting on getting some heavy equipment (something with tracks, like a bulldozer or the like) to drag the recovery truck in so they can put the gondola on the trailer.

A more thorough recap of yesterday:
We left Winslow, AZ at about 3:30AM and started driving west on I-40. By about 8AM, we had made it to the turnoff for Lake Havasu City and we stopped for gas and to await further instruction on the payload location. The NASA pilot and some other crew had flown to Lake Havasu and then flew from there to search for the payload.

From the air, they were able to direct us to the gondola. When we got there, we saw that it was on its back, and short distance from the road. It landed in the middle of an empty parcel in the Stagecoach Trails "development" (if you can call it that) near Yucca, AZ. We spent a long time trying to figure out who owned the land, dealing with crappy cell phone reception, a wild goose chase, bla bla bla. Long story short, we were saved by a couple we ran into on the road, Cecil and Deanna Powell, who became interested in our predicament and actually went back to their house, got on the Internet, and looked up the owners while we were out driving around trying to get information. Cecil and Deanna -- thank you so much!
Jeff and I started by walking the ~1000 feet out to the gondola. The first indications were that it was in one piece and the important bits undamaged. We spent a long time looking around and inspecting things before starting any disassembly. Britt joined us a little later and then process went pretty smoothly for us. We started by removing important items like the disks, star camera, and other various pieces of electronics, which took the better part of the afternoon. I checked the cryogen tanks to make sure they were free of ice plugs. Because of the aforementioned truck troubles, we had to carry out all the pieces to the road to load them in the truck and car.

Once it got dark, we headed back to Lake Havasu City and got some sleep -- 7 hours, which was more sleep than I had gotten in the past two days combined.

In the morning today, we talked with the CSBF crew about what we thought needed to be done in order to secure the payload on the truck once they got it there. We split up, and we headed back out to the payload to do some last checks. When we arrived at the payload, we found that one of the neighbors had come out to the payload and put a sticker on our experiment! This amused us greatly. On the way back out, we ran into Cecil and Deanna again, and they gave us the name of a guy with heavy equipment who worked on the weekend and might be able to help CSBF get the payload out. We relayed the info to CSBF and then started the drive back to Fort Sumner.

First, we stopped by the place of the neighbor with the sticker, and we chatted for about a half hour about the project -- he said he had seen the balloon the night while it was at float -- and it ended up landing about 300 feet north of his property. On the way to Fort Sumner, we stopped at the In-N-Out Burger in Kingman, AZ. Then we basically drove the rest of the way non-stop and arrived in Fort Sumner at about midnight.

No pictures from recovery yet, but launch pictures are up at:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Day 80, 6/12/09 -- The road to recovery

Short post today, because I'm beat: We got to the payload, most everything we expected to survive termination/impact survived, CSBF can't get their trucks near it because the ground is too loose, we removed a lot of our electronics, need sleep, pictures later, goodnight!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 79, 6/11/09 -- Launch day!

Well, we launched! The launch looked picture-perfect, but something traumatic happened and something in our elevation actuator broke and the elevation was stuck at about 15 degrees. Not only that, we haven't been able to solve with the star camera all day. It's possible that, due to the low elevation, there's enough atmosphere in the way that the sky is too bright to see stars, which is a major bummer.

On the plus side, a lot of the ACS sensors and control systems are working great. The detectors, after a few hiccups, seem to be running smoothly. The half-wave-plate system has been purring like a kitten. And the baffles survived launch and seem to still be intact because we can't see any sun-synchronous signal.

The float winds were predicted to be high, and indeed have been in the high-40-knot range all day, meaning that the payload just zoomed off to the west after reaching float altitude. Thus, shortly after the launch (at about 11AM), Britt and I left, following Randall, Dorothy, and Bo from CSBF in the recovery trucks. We caravaned across New Mexico, ending up in Winslow, AZ to meet up with the downrange team.

As of 9:40PM New Mexico time, the EBEX flight has been terminated. It is predicted to land slightly east of Lake Havasu, AZ. Britt, myself, and possibly Jeff will meet up with the CSBF recovery team at 3AM to begin the drive out to the western edge of AZ, where we will have to try and figure out how to extricate EBEX from the mountains it looks likely to land in.

Launch video:

EBEX Launch, 6/11/09.

Launch pictures will be up later, probably after recovery and I've had some time to sleep.

EDIT: Launch pictures:

June 11 launch attempt -- now, go cat go!

We had three to get ready...

0215h local:
Arrived at high bay. Moved gondola toward door and rotated around. Jeff has started closing up the cryostat access panel. Amber showed up 5 minutes prior after a heroic day of traveling, culminating in a 5 hour drive from El Paso. Milligan's dad showed up again too!

0230h local:
Pre-flight checkouts in progress. Should be picked up and out the door soon.

0340h local:
Gondola is out the door, baffles are open, flight train is attached, mirror is cleaned. Now lifting to remove the casters and put on the crush pads.

0413h local:
CSBF is figuring out which direction to lay the balloon. The pi ball seems to be indicating fairly calm winds (~8 knots by my reckoning) at 950 feet AGL, but perhaps a little too strong halfway up. Britt is feeding us cookies.

0436h local:
Looks like they've picked a layout direction. CSBF is moving out the helium tanker trucks and the balloon spool truck (AKA "The Monster").

0446h local:
We're going to roll out to the pad in about 5-10 minutes.

0546h local:
We're out on the pad, on lithium (flight) batteries, and our pre-flight checks are done. We're now hands-off. The layout direction looks dead on to the direction indicated by the pi ball, though the wind is a little stronger than earlier both at the surface and at pi ball altitude. We're waiting for them to roll out the balloon.

0615h local:
The balloon has been unrolled!! They are installing the helium vent valves at the top and making the attachment to the parachute. Inflation could start as soon as 10-15 minutes.

0640h local, roughly:
Balloon inflation has begun! We're gonna launch or waste $150,000 worth of balloon and helium...

0712h local:
Balloon still inflating! Almost there...

0801h local:

0805h local:
There may be a problem with the elevation actuator. We set the elevation to approximately 60 degrees pre-launch, but on launch the elevation was observed to be extremely low. It's possible the actuator may have broken, meaning we will have no elevation control for the flight.

0947h local:
It indeed seems that our elevation actuator is broken. While we can still do the observations we hope to do, it will limit our flexibility in scheduling and making the observations. This is going to be the last post of this live-blog, as soon Britt and I will have to start driving so we can meet the payload after termination. I'll try and post again tonight.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Day 78, 6/10/09 -- Once more into the breach

We got word today that tomorrow we will get another launch attempt. The winds look nice and low, and we've got high hopes. If we don't launch tomorrow, the winds don't look good for Friday or Saturday morning. The winds at float altitudes have gotten really strong -- up into the 40-50 knot range at the highest altitudes we'll be flying at, and somewhat lower (in the 20's) at our overnight altitudes if we decide to continue overnight.

Ilan re-cycled the fridges earlier today, Britt and I went through some information for the recovery crew (which will consist of me, Britt, and some CSBF personnel). We went through our day-before pre-flight checklist and then left for the evening. Plan is to show up at 2:15AM to get out the door by 2:30AM. I'll be live-blogging again too.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Day 77, 6/9/09 -- Back to flight mode.

FIREBall had a very successful flight, it seems. They terminated at about 10AM and landed near Cedar City, Utah. Initial reports indicate that they payload is in good shape (it fell over on landing, but that's to be expected) and they got a lot of good data.

After the few days off that everyone in the group took, it was time to get back to a flight-ready mindset. To that end, Ilan cycled our cryogenic system to get detectors cold and we ran a flight simulation to make sure that everyone still knew how to do what they needed to do.

As is typical for flight sims, there wasn't much for me to do. Because I already knew that we weren't going be able to attempt a launch tomorrow morning, I took the opportunity to prep and cook a brisket that I had bought over a week ago and had just been waiting for an opportunity to cook. I made a spice rub and let it marinate overnight in the fridge, and then got it cooking in the charcoal grill at the base at about noon. Six hours later, we were rewarded with this:

Needless to say, it disappeared rather quickly.

After the flight sim and brisket consumption, Jeff and I showed Kyle the ins and outs of filling cryogens on the gondola. Dan showed up in the evening as well. The plan for tonight is to do some star camera alignment and scan tests, so Jeff and I headed home.

Pictures today are of the brisket. You know, the important stuff.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Day 76, 6/8/09 -- ...and then there was one.

FIREBall launched today.

They had a fairly late launch at about 11:45 AM, which is great for FIREBall -- it means they will get to spend more time at float in darkness.

The launch was not without complications. The winds were actually quite low, and the balloon went up very slowly compared to the NCT launch I saw roughly a month ago. Once they released the payload, it went basically straight up. The launch vehicle driver was backing away, but Big Bill can't go very fast so FIREBall hit the launch pin on the way up, scraping along the doors that cover their telescope. It looked (and sounded) fairly violent, and the FIREBall team was rightfully concerned that the doors might have been damaged and they wouldn't be able to open them once they got up to observing altitude:

FIREBall launch

Once they got high enough, they tried it -- and succeeded! It's now nearly 1AM, and the payload is over the Four Corners, drifting northwest at 22 knots at an altitude of nearly 113,000 feet. From what I hear, the mission is going well. Go FIREBall!

After the launch, we tied up some loose ends and most of us went to the lake house for a dip in the lake and some food. Britt and Michele returned late tonight, as well as Shaul and Ilan with a new addition in tow, Kyle.

The earliest opportunity we are likely to have to launch is Thursday (weather-dependent, of course).

Pictures of FIREBall launch:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Day 75, 6/7/09 -- Back in Fort Sumner

After a leisurely morning and a great breakfast at Counter Culture Cafe in Santa Fe, we began the trek back to Fort Sumner. Most of the crew stopped at Montezuma hot springs, just north of Las Vegas, NM, but I headed straight for Fort Sumner so I could check on the cryostat -- and it's a good thing, too: The cryostat had about 1 liter of liquid nitrogen left in it, which would have lasted only 3 hours longer. It had about 4 liters of liquid helium, which would have lasted for about 8 hours.

Once I got back, Seth and I added some liquid nitrogen, and Seth filled me in on the Fort Sumner operations. Everything was pretty much copacetic while we were gone, and FIREBall is going to try to launch again tomorrow morning. If they don't launch, there's a chance that we'll get the next opportunity, as the weather forecast for mid-week is predicted to have some cloud cover that will significantly affect their altitude.

After the rest of the gang got back from the hot springs (which they said were actually hot, unlike the one we went to a couple days ago), Jeff and I added helium to the cryostat. We then headed home, and then watched a couple of movies (Lucky Number Slevin and Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle) at one of the houses. A laptop, an LCD projector, a white sheet, and a Cambridge Soundworks MicroWorks computer speaker system makes for a pretty decent movie setup.

No pictures today. After all, Friday's mustache picture should be enough picture for weeks.

Day 74, 6/6/09 -- EBEX gets some culture

Another day in Santa Fe for the EBEX crew. Today we split up a little bit in the morning; I slept in which was much-needed. At around noon, a subset of us headed to a place called Bagelmania which, despite its rather silly-sounding name, makes a good breakfast. Crab cake eggs benedict? Yes, please.

Will, Daniel, and I headed to the Georgia O'Keefe Museum. I hadn't realized before the breadth of her talent, and I particularly liked her philosophy on art, which was basically: I paint things I think are beautiful -- don't read too much into it! We then met up with Joy, Jeff, and Milligan at the New Mexico History Museum and learned about the rather violent history of this region (I suppose the same could be said of any region, though...).

While we were out getting our culture on, Hannes and François drove a little ways out of town for another hiking excursion. After they returned, Hannes suggested we go to the 2nd Street Brewery where we had some appetizers. We then re-agglomerated at the motel and walked into downtown for dinner at the Thai Cafe. After that, more Santa Fe nightlife, such as it is.

I didn't take any pictures today. And I just now discovered that I had accidentally duplicated blog post title day numbers -- all they way back at day 9 and day 14. I had to go through every single post and edit the titles, and I still haven't figured out how exactly I managed to duplicate June 3rd.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Day 73, 6/5/09 -- EBEX still in Santa Fe!

The EBEX crew had another full day in Santa Fe yesterday.

We had a late breakfast at Tecolote Cafe, where we met a guy with a truly awesome Salvador-Dali-like mustache. The remaining members of the EBEX mustache crew (the stalwarts -- myself, Hannes, and François) got our picture taken with him (see today's album).

From there, we drove up highway 285 to visit Bandelier National Monument. Bandelier is a park set in the area around Frijoles Canyon, near Los Alamos, where the ruins of ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings were found (by a guy named Bandelier, hence the name).

After walking the trails at Bandelier and checking out the caves (which were pretty neat), we then drove towards Jemez, passing by Valles Caldera, to find a hot spring that Hannes had visited before. After a decent few-mile-uphill hike, we were rewarded with a spring that, if not hot, was at least comfortably warm. We soaked in the spring for a bit while getting our toes nibbled by minnows before heading back down.

On the drive back to Santa Fe, we took a different route than when we drove in, and were treated to some stunning views of red- and orange-hued cliffs and mesas. I have to say, the landscape in this part of New Mexico is truly spectacular.

Once back in Santa Fe, we headed to Il Vicino to get some pizza (real pizza from a wood-fired oven!) and then wandered around to check out the Santa Fe nightlife. The town was definitely more alive on Friday night than it was the night before.

The reader may have noticed that I put a new title image up on the blog. Also, the reader may have noticed that I somehow managed to get the dates screwed up in recent blog post titles. I'm working on sorting it out.

Pictures from today at:

Friday, June 5, 2009

Day 72, 6/4/09 -- EBEX in Santa Fe!

Well, due to all the bad weather, people have scattered. We found out today that FIREBall is going to try launching again tomorrow, and then the weather gets really bad (hail, lightning, frogs falling form skies, etc.) for the next two days after that.

Because we don't have a chance at launching, Ilan and Shaul have gone back to Minnesota, Amber and Britt to New York. This morning, Will and I drove to Albuquerque to drop Michele off at the airport for a flight to Oakland so he could visit some friends in Berkeley for a few days. From there, we drove north on I-25 to Santa Fe, where we met two other cars containing Hannes, François, Milligan, Kate, Jeff, Joy, and Daniel.

The first order of business was, of course, lunch. We were all starving, and we found a place called The Shed in the downtown Santa Fe that, frankly, was delicious. It's not that Fred's is so bad, but it's not really...good. This food was good. I had forgotten how good food could be. We then sorted out lodging, and Will ran an errand (to send a gift to his daughter whose birthday is coming up).

After that, on a recommendation of one of Jeff's friends, we took a hike up the Atalaya trail. Starting at about 7500 feet, the trail takes a couple of miles to go up to the peak at approximately 9100 feet. It turns out that most of us in the group are pretty out of shape. It took a good hour to get up there, taking a few rests here and there to let our weary calves rest, but it was well worth it once we got to the top. On the way down, most of us at some point or another took to running down the trail, which was lots of fun and everybody managed not to trip and fall. Our legs will definitely be feeling the effects tomorrow though.

After cleaning ourselves up, we walked back into downtown for dinner. After a bit of wandering, we re-found an Indian restaurant that Will and I had seen earlier in the day. It was decent Indian food, but the main point is that it was Indian food -- something that many of us haven't seen for over two months.

After that, we went to a bar called Cowgirl that Jeff was really dying to go to. We hung out there for a while and eventually made our way back to the motel.


Day 71, 6/3/09 -- No FIREBall launch

sorry for the late post!

FIREBall scrubbed this morning. We got a prediction for fairly bad weather for the next few days, so we finalized our plans to go to Santa Fe for a couple of days to relax for a bit. To that end, we put the appropriate amount of cryogens in the cryostat so it could sit unattended for a few days. Nothing much else happened.

In the evening, though, there was an awesome electrical storm the likes of which I have NEVER seen before. It was basically continuous lightning strikes to our south-southeast or so. I took a nice little video of it, set to the tune of Dvorak's New World Symphony (it was on the car radio). Towards the end of the piece, it actually seemed as if the lightning was flashing in time to the music!


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Day 70, 6/3/03 -- FIREBall's up next!

Big news today: FIREBall has taken tomorrow morning's launch opportunity. The winds look borderline, so it'll be what Bill Stepp calls 'groundhog day': They'll show up, stick their heads out and see what the winds are like, and make the call in the morning whether or not to roll out.

Anticipating this, several members of the group have left for a while. Shaul, Ilan, Amber, and Britt have all departed for a few days. This should work out well, since the weather for Friday and Saturday doesn't look good for a launch.

Most of us that have remained here are making plans to go to Santa Fe for a day or so to unwind a little bit. Assuming that FIREBall launches, the next possible launch attempt for us probably wouldn't be until Monday because FIREBall's flight track will take them almost all the way to California, and CSBF wouldn't have enough manpower to launch another payload until the FIREBall recovery team returned.

Again, no pictures.

Day 69, 6/2/09 -- I'm running out of titles

Well, we didn't launch again. CSBF then told us that there would be no launch opportunity today, Wednesday morning (yeah, I'm posting this a little late), so Jeff and I ended up opening up the experiment and relocating a heater from the half-wave-plate drive motor mount to the rotary vacuum feedthrough on the cryostat -- there were concerns that the feedthrough would get too cold if we drooped down too low overnight, as it's only rated to -50C and at ~80,000 feet the temperature gets to about -55C. Jeff spent about 5 hours hunched over uncomfortably confined in the gondola inner frame, squeezed between the cryostat, the window champagne bucket baffle, and a gyro box working on the heaters while I fetched tools, offered advice, did some soldering, and helped out wherever I could. In the end, we tested the heaters and found that the feedthrough ran about 20C above ambient temperature, even in the high-pressure environment at ground level, and the motor mount got to 5C above ambient -- more than enough to survive an overnight flight at low altitudes.

Once we finished, we headed over to the ranch house where the rest of the crew had already started to party. Sam and Jerry have now gone home, and Joy and Daniel have moved into the ranch house in their place. If there's no launch attempt tomorrow, some of us are thinking of driving out to Santa Fe to see what it's all about.

I didn't take any pictures of the launch attempt in the morning because we didn't even roll away from the high bay, and everything pretty much looks the same as the previous attempts.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Launch attempt 3 -- third time's the charm?

0315h local:
We showed up around 0215h for roll-out today. We're getting much quicker with the pre-launch prep. As of right now, the gondola is out the door, baffles are ready, and we're hanging from Big Bill. We're waiting on the wind direction to stabilize before we roll out to the pad.

0327h local:
Put up the pictures from yesterday's attempt at:

0340h local:
Bill Stepp came by and told us there was a problem with one of the terminate package's squib -- either the one that separates the balloon from the payload or the one that separates the parachute from the balloon after landing. It'll take an hour to swap out...so we're stuck until then. We're watching Flight of the Conchords in the conference room to pass the time.

0440h local:
We're moving out to the pad. Still a question on wind direction, and the CSBF weather crew is being hampered by inoperational radar at Cannon AFB. But we have to try...

0522h local:
Still haven't moved out. And it is cold in here today. Brr.

0627h local:
A front is moving through, and there's a possibility of a lull in the winds after it passes, so we're still waiting.

0655h local:
Officially scrubbed, again.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Day 68, 6/1/09 - I don't want no scrub

Launch attempt 2 was scrubbed, but once again FIREBall has declined the launch opportunity due to the flight profile, so once again we are at bat. We are aiming for a roll-out of 2:30AM this time instead of 1:15, as we spent a lot of time yesterday just sitting at the door of the high bay.

Pictures from this morning's launch attempt will be up later.

June 1 launch attempt

Well, we're here at the high bay again getting ready for another launch attempt.

0208h local:
We've got the gondola out the door, the baffles in place, and the flight suspension hardware on. The CSBF team is working on installing the crush pads. Things are going more quickly this time around -- amazing what a dry run will do.

0234h local:
Waiting...just hanging out outside the building before rolling out to the pad. People are very relaxed this time around.

0251h local:
Pi ball launched and indicates low-level winds are lower than yesterday.

0305h local:
Delay now is in figuring out which direction to lay out the balloon.

0326h local:
Rolling out to the pad.

0356h local:
Out on the pad, balloon truck is out, helium trucks are out. Current plan is for hands-off at 0430h, and CSBF is going to start unrolling the balloon then.

0420h local:
We are hands-off. All of our pre-flight checklists are done. The balloon crate is out by the balloon truck. Plan is to open it around 5AM and start laying it out.

0523h local:
Still haven't opened the balloon crate. There was some concern about wind direction, which now seems to be fine. There's some concern about the winds at ~400 ft, which were a little stronger than the winds at 1000 ft.

0530h local:
Winds have picked up...11 knots at 500 feet and 18 knots at 1000. Too fast to launch, but we're going to wait a while longer and see what happens. If they go down...

0619h local:
Low-level winds haven't died down. We're scrubbed.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Day 67, 5/31/09 -- Launch attempt 1, scrubbed

Well, after all that, no launch. After bringing the gondola inside, we went home to get some sleep.

We came back for the weather briefing, and the winds have REALLY picked up for FIREBall -- they would only have gotten 4 hours of night-time flight at float, so again they decided to pass on the launch opportunity. This means we get to do the whole thing again tomorrow morning!

Luckily, some of the things that we did yesterday on the hardware end don't need to be done again, so we'll save some time. Right now we're going through our pre-flight checklist again and then heading home to get some sleep.

Pictures from today's launch attempt:

May 31st launch attempt -- live-blogging

0115 hours local time:
We convened at the high bay at about 0030 h for the final pre-launch prep. Will and Amber ran a quick scan test and we've started closing up the access panels and getting ready to roll out. Mark and Bill from CSBF came by to tell us that there are a few more showers in the area and they're going to watch the situation. Right now we're getting ready to push the gondola back towards the door and hook the gondola up to Big Bill to lift out. If we get the go-ahead from the weather people, we'll, uh, go ahead.

0145h local:
I just went up with Mark from CSBF to get the gondola hooked up to Big Bill for roll-out. We're standing by pending good news on the weather.

0252h local:
We are outside the building and the baffles are opened and the braces installed. We are basically ready to roll out to the launch pad.

0304h local:
Mirror cover is off. CSBF is attaching ballast hoppers and crush pads.

0331h local:
Crush pads and ballast hoppers are on. The CSBF electronics crew is finalizing the routing of their cables and antennas. They've already updated the GPS tracking webpage for us!

0400h local:
The weather guys have told us there's a slight possibility of light showers in the area, so we've covered up some sensitive things and we're going to wait and see what happens.

0405h local:
Just found out that Jerry is posting video clips in near-real time to YouTube:

0430h local:
Weather is looking good. Still waiting for official word.

0454h local:
They've driven out the balloon vehicle and have launched a pilot balloon ("pi ball") that's used to gauge the wind speeds. This is a good sign.

0505h local:
Rolling out to the pad!

0557h local:
Mechanical work on gondola done. Sun has risen. They're laying out the flight train now. Looking good! We're going through our pre-flight checklist.

0626h local:
Pre-flight checklist done -- we're hands-off the experiment now. The balloon is still in its crate; they're waiting for the low-level (~1000ft above ground level) winds to stabilize.

0700h local:
Launch scrubbed. The low-level winds ended up lining up fine, but by that time the surface winds had picked up and it was a no-go. Maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Day 66, 5/30/09 -- BREAKING NEWS: EBEX launch attempt tomorrow, Sunday May 31!

At today's weather briefing we got the prognosis for a decent ~12 hr. flight. FIREBall's flight profile would have put them at 111,000 feet for most of the night, which they decided was too low for them so the opportunity fell to us and we took it.

Right now we are going through the first stages of our pre-flight checklist before we head home to try and get some rest. We have to be back by 1AM so CSBF can take us out.

More updates as they become available.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Day 65, 5/29/09 -- The ennui of readiness

I'm going to just come out and say it: Today was boring. And that is precisely what makes it so fantastic. People were, for the most part, just either doing nothing (like me...well, I was reading a book) or doing very minor work. Today's flight sim went smoothly. Not perfect, but well-enough.

We're ready.

It looks like the downrange weather is getting a little better, so it's likely that FIREBall will take the next launch opportunity.

Various people have left: Ilan and Dan have both left for Minneapolis earlier (Ilan a few days ago, Dan yesterday). Shaul left today to spend the weekend at home as well. All are planning to be back soon-ish.

Because so many UMN people have left at different times, we've been experiencing a serious shortage of cars. Shaul arranged for us to rent a couple of cars from Clovis, so Britt, Michele, Jeff, and I drove out there. Jeff and I drove the new rentals back (a red Chevy Cobalt and a white Mazda3) while Britt and Michele ran some errands and procured Thai food for the rest of the group. After our flight sim, we went back to Britt, Michele, and Will's rental house, ate the Thai food, and watched Ghost Town using our LCD projector and a white sheet for a screen. It was a nice, relaxing evening after a nice, relaxing day at the high bay.

No pictures today; sorry Daniel's mom.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Day 64, 5/28/09 -- I'm waiting for the day

Today was a pretty relaxed day. Britt fixed the issue with the ACS card not reading correctly (burnt regulator), Will did a lot of tests of the motor control box, Jeff and I filled liquid helium, and I cycled the fridges.

We're still not flying. We still have thunderstorms off to our west which will bring our altitude down significantly overnight. The meteorologists tell us this weather pattern is starting to clear out, and will be improved by Sunday. Until then...pictures:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Day 63, 5/27/09 -- The waiting is the hardest part

Well, we're basically ready. Sure, one ACS card is reading funny temperatures, and there are some lingering issues with the rotator, but these are all pretty minor.

The real holdup is the weather. Darn monsoon pattern over AZ is screwing us over every day. So, we wait. And wait. And...well, you get the picture.

We did see a V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor today. It circled around and landed and took off from the runway at the airport four or five times. It was neat.

Pictures (all Osprey):

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Day 62, 5/26/09 -- Things are looking up

After yesterday's horrible day, today was much better. Britt and Michele finished the last of the mechanical work on the gondola in the morning. Jeff, Milligan, and I rolled in around 10. Jeff and I filled cryogens, then Will and the ACS team did a few scan tests.

At today's weather briefing, we got more bad news: The same monsoon-like weather pattern that's been sitting over western NM and eastern AZ shows very little sign of dissipating, so the projected flights for the next few days look pretty crappy. For us, we would droop down to 72,000 feet at night, at which point everything gets much colder and there's a strong possibility that we wouldn't be able to point the telescope due to the strong winds. So...we wait.

Weather aside, the experiment is mostly ready now. There are some software crashes that are being investigated but don't necessarily kill us, and an ACS card stopped reading out its analog channels so it needs to be replaced with its spare, but otherwise...we're ready.

We also got a new lift delivered to replace the one that broke. The new one is a JLG E400AJP -- and it goes a full 10 feet higher than the one we had. It's pretty sweet. It is a foot and a half wider than the old one, but that should still be ok.

The team took an early night off tonight. There were plans to go to Clovis, but I think due to the thunderstorms in the area it didn't happen. Tomorrow: another flight sim.



I just now realized that the Blogger settings were configured to only allow comments from registered users. I've now disabled that -- so comment away, previously silenced masses!

Better late than never, right?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Day 61, 5/25/09 -- When it rains, it pours.

This has been a taxing week for the EBEX crew. 2 of our 6 gyros failed; that manufacturer was not at all sypathetic to our plight and we ended up reconfiguring our system to use 4 gyros instead of 6. Then we had our issues with the pivot, which required rebuilding the bearing assembly. Last night the cherry picker broke, and the fix was only semi-usable. And remember when our GPS unit broke about 2 weeks ago? This morning, CSBF took us outside to calibrate our repaired GPS unit...and it's somehow broken again!

To add insult to injury, the wind shifted direction and picked up speed while we were outside, so we ended up facing directly into the wind with not-very-well braced baffle ears (they were folded in to minimize their cross section, which eliminates the bracing that stabilizes them). The zip ties that were holding the ears in place failed, and each ear in turn swung backwards 180 degrees -- keep in mind that they're only designed to fold out 45 degrees. The resulting carnage was an impressively twisted bit of baffle support structure and smashed foam.

The rest of the day was devoted to fixing the damage caused by the wind in the morning, basically putting us a day behind where we wanted to be. I was so dejected I didn't take any pictures of the damage, but Dan got a few pictures after everything was mostly fixed.

On the bright side, NASA is loaning us one of their GPS units for the flight, and it looks like we might be getting a new cherry picker tomorrow. On the downside, the flight weather looks pretty bad for the next few days at least, and our flight computer keeps crashing every few hours.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Day 60, 5/24/09 -- Working pivot, broken cherry picker

Well, the title basically sums up the entire state of affairs in the high bay today. Will did some pivot tests today and everything is basically working fine.

The big failure of today (because there's always one, right?) was of our cherry picker, a JLG E300AJP boom lift. After Will used it to do some pivot motor diagnostics, it basically just...stopped working. While in the middle of the high bay doorway. We spent a few hours poking around, trying to figure out what was going on, noticing a flashing error code on the unit, trying to find a service manual, etc., etc. We ended up calling United Rentals, from whence we rented the unit, and they actually had a guy drive out to Fort Sumner....from Santa Fe. On a Sunday night. On Memorial Day weekend.

He showed up at about 10PM, poked around a little, plugged in a diagnostic tool into the port in the lift, and poked around a little more. Eventually he got it to go out the door, but it now only goes in one direction, with one speed (FAST), and it doesn't stop. This, as you might imagine, is less than useful. It remains to be seen how we can work around not having this lift -- it basically gets used every day for at least an hour, if not more. It's going to be difficult to have to use a less-flexible lifting system.

In other news, we had another flight simulation at the end of the day. Unlike last time, it was NOT a total disaster, though it was by no means perfect. Still, we're getting there.

Pictures for today:

Day 59, 5/23/09 -- The rebirth of the rotator

We were planning on doing another flight sim today, but instead the entire crew was focused on figuring out the funny business with our rotator/pivot. It seems that the problems we were seeing yesterday got worse overnight -- the pivot wouldn't even make the gondola move even if we hit it with all the current we have available. After doing some tests, we determined there was too much friction in the bearings, so we brought the rotator down.

After it was disassembled, we (meaning Michele, Seth, and Britt) found bearings clogged with...all sorts of crap. Some of the rollers (they're tapered roller bearings, for whatever that's worth) were clogged with the accumulated schmutz of 2 months in the high bay. After cleaning and regreasing the bearings, the pivot was reassembled, remounted, and once again the gondola spins freely! As the kids say, "w00t!".

On the software front, it seems that we are now in a stable software state, free of (excessive) crashing and ready for flight. SWEET.

While all the hard work was being done on the rotator, a few of us (myself, Jeff, Dan, Ilan, and Kate, joined by Joy and Daniel later) went to Clovis for some R&R. We had dinner at a Thai (plus Chinese and Japanese!) restaurant that was suprisingly good and then headed to Kelley's, an Irish pub in the heart of Clovis that Dan mentioned was a popular hangout for Air Force guys from nearby Cannon AFB. Good times were had by all.

Today, I took more pictures, because apparently Daniel's mom complained that I wasn't taking enough pictures. So these ones are for you, Daniel's mom.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Day 58, 5/22/09 -- Flight simulation, take 1.

Today we had our first attempt at a flight simulation. It was, predictably, a complete disaster. Besides the detector power accidentally being shut off and losing all of our detectors, the azimuth motors have been exhibiting funny behavior that we spent the rest of the day looking into. And the detector power going out also screwed up the commanding for our half-wave-plate system.

On the bright side, after the detector power outage, it only took about a half hour to get them all back, which I think is a record for us.

Milligan, Hannes, and Joy flew out to Winslow, AZ where CSBF has their 'downrange station' set up for line-of-sight telemetry when payloads get out of range of Ft. Sumner. They set up a couple computers there along with the downlink hardware and made sure that everything worked before flying back. Bonus points for anyone who can name the famous song that mentions Winslow, AZ.

There's a possibility we'll fly on Sunday morning. Stay tuned...

No pictures today (what can I say, most everything just looks the same).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Day 57, 5/21/09 -- Crashing code make Hulk AAAAANGRY

Well, the gondola team tried to do scan tests outdoors last night but were stymied by a consistently crashing computer. Turns out that all of the changes people have been making to the flight control code have made it...break. As of today, we have instituted a new code policy so that no non-essential changes are made, all changes are made on a case-by-case basis to determine essential-ness(?), and changes are only made by two people: Milligan and Will, who are the most familiar with the code. By reverting to an old version of the code, it seems that we now once again have working flight computers.

A corollary is that hardware changes are also to be kept to a minimum. We have reached a point where making changes has the potential to do more harm than good.

As such, there's little for a hardware guy like me to do...so I did basically nothing today. Jeff made some structural improvements to some baffling and made a foam cover for the mirror. The detector crew did some noise tests this morning outdoors and everything looks pretty good.

Now, we wait. Depending on the weather, there might be a flight opportunity tomorrow and possibly on Sunday as well. FIREBall gets dibs, though, so if they want it, they get it.

NCT was found perched precariously on the slope of a ravine where they have to get it out by helicopter. The recovery team is surely working hard on getting it home safely.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Day 56, 5/20/09 -- Rain, rain, go away

Today, after the morning's tests were finished, Britt spent a lot of time routing and tying up cables on the gondola. This is, quite frankly, an annoying, frustrating, and often thankless task, but Britt took it on anyway.

The weather for a launch in the next few days looks pretty iffy. It's not so much the conditions in Fort Sumner, which are reasonable, but the thunderstorms to the west of us that would bring down the balloon altitude significantly. It's unlikely that a flight over these conditions would meet either our or FIREBall's flight requirements. There's a possible launch opportunity on Friday morning, and again possibly on Sunday.

Jeff and I cut a hole in the baffling to allow access to the cryostat so we can fill without removing the whole rear baffle. Even so, filling the cryostat's LN2 tank now easily takes twice as long as it did without the baffle, and probably 5 times as long as when the cryostat was on its cart. Still, it beats having to remove the baffle.

The gondola is going out again tonight for pointing and scanning tests, but there's no strong need for myself or Jeff to be there so we left early. The detector crew is planning on doing some noise tests during the latter part of tonight's outdoor adventure.

No pictures today.

Day 55, 5/19/09 -- EBEX in Flight, late edition

We took EBEX outside again last night in order to do far-sidelobe testing. In order to do that, we had to finalize ALL of the baffling -- a time consuming task since some had been removed in order to fix some electronics. We got the baffling done around 1AM, the ACS team did some pointing tests for about an hour and a half, and then we were picked up and taken outside at about 2:30AM.

After going outside, we were set down on the ground and the baffles were set in their flight position (they have to be folded in order to get out the high bay door). Jeff and I left at about 4:30 AM while a smaller subset of the team stayed to do the far sidelobe tests. Initial indications look good -- no far sidelobe features at the roughly -90 dB level, which was about the noise floor of the measurement.

In the morning after being brought back in, CSBF weighed us for our official flight weight: 5925 lbs! That's 75 lbs LESS than we had been hoping for. That means we can carry a little bit more ballast and thus hopefully avoid drooping down too far at night.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Day 54, 5/18/09 -- Loose ends

Most of today was spent doing miscellaneous things on the gondola. The ACS crew investigated the oddness with the gyros and are reverting back to an old, less-redundant configuration since two out of our six gyros are wonky.

Jeff did some work on the baffles, covering some seams, and I did some work on the cryostat. Seth from Columbia fixed an issue which we were having with our disk pressure vessels and flight control program, and Milligan has fixed our detector algorithm manager so Hannes and François were able to get detectors tuned today in about a half an hour rather than half a day. All in all, good progress all around.

Tonight, the pointing team is going outside to attempt some scan tests.

NCT, which launched yesterday, managed to get a 37 hour flight! They would have terminated earlier, but they were over inhospitable terrain so it was delayed for quite a while. 37 hours might be a record for a flight from Fort Sumner. I found out today that Eric from the NCT team has a blog up at http://goneballooning.wordpress.com/.

No pictures from today, but Milligan gave me some nice panoramas from the NCT launch yesterday which I put up in the NCT launch album at:

Day 53, 5/17/09 -- NCT launched!

The big news today is that NCT launched this morning! While their flight forecast was only a little better than what they had yesterday, they decided to go ahead -- and it's a good thing they did, because it's turning out to be a great flight! Even now, 18 hours after launch, they're still at float and it looks like they have plenty of room to keep going.

Today I worked on the last piece of baffling for the top of the cryostat, Jeff worked on installing a heater on the half-wave-plate drive motor, and the ACS crew tried to debug some faulty gyro readings. The detector crew has made good progress on getting the algorithms working so we'll be in good shape for the flight. Ilan cycled our sub-Kelvin refrigerators so we can do more detector/noise tests tomorrow.

We took the evening off and had dinner at the so-called "lake house", where Hannes, François, Ilan, and Dan are staying. We had a nice relaxing dinner, and some of us went into the lake. A few of us, myself included, went swimming at about midnight and were treated to both cold water as well as an amazing night sky.

All of my pictures today are of the NCT launch and flight:

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Day 52, 5/16/09 -- Almost.

Today Jeff and I did more work on the baffles, fixing up the minor damage from the winds during compatibility testing and improving the structure a bit. The big news today, though, was the weather: Tomorrow morning looks like an excellent opportunity for a launch. The problem, however, is that the projected flight track would take any payload launched close to the Mexico border, and they are required to terminate if the payload gets within 50 miles of the border. Even a minor deviation from the projected path would require an early termination and thus a short flight -- perhaps only 10-12 hours instead of the 24 that every group here is hoping for.

For FIREBall, this is definitely a no-go: They can only observe at night, and CSBF only launches payloads from Fort Sumner in the mornings -- if they only got a 10 hour flight, they wouldn't get any data at all. The NCT crew also would like to get some post-sunset flight time so they can test their systems for their eventual long-duration flight from Australia which, unlike an Antarctic long-duration-flight, has to go through sunsets. For us, the flight didn't meet our minimum requirements for the science we wanted to do.

In the end, it was decided that there would be an NCT launch attempt tomorrow if the projected flight track improves as we get weather data closer to flight. We'll see how it goes.

Also, I got a package of delicious date bars from a friend in Minneapolis! They were a big hit with the rest of the crew here too.

No pictures today.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Day 51, 5/15/09 -- Compatibility: Achieved. Rest: Pending.

As expected, the FIREBall launch was scrubbed due to high low-level (~500ft above ground) winds. We arrived at 4AM anticipating this so we could prepare for our compatibility test with the NASA electronics. This would be the first major test of the enormous baffles that we put on earlier -- would they survive, even with these relatively low winds? Stay tuned...

Ok, they survived. At some points the winds started gusting up to almost 20 knots, I believe -- worse than typical launch conditions -- and the baffles, perhaps amazingly, didn't completely fall apart. Some mylar peeled off, but nothing that will be too difficult to fix.

More importantly, our electronics passed the compatibility test! We should be flight-ready in a couple of days -- then, we wait for FIREBall and NCT to launch. The next launch window looks to be Sunday morning.

Last, Amber and Seth arrived from Columbia this morning -- with authentic New York bagels in hand! The ACS and bolometer crews had more work to do today, so Jeff and I filled liquid helium in the cryostat and then left around 11AM. We're going to try and get some rest to recover from the past few days of work.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Day 50, 5/14/09 -- Compatibility looms

We ended up not doing compatibility today -- we got behind schedule and the winds were going to get too strong before we finished, so we had to delay.

FIREBall has their first launch attempt tomorrow, but the conditions are pretty marginal. If they scrub, we're going to do compatibility in the morning -- at 5AM. We have to show up at 4AM. Sweet.


Day 49, 5/13/09 -- Death by a thousand aluminum tape cuts

Busy day, getting ready for compatibility test tomorrow. Too tired to write a full post.

I added some pictures from Milligan in the albums for the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 11th, and 13th. His pictures are at the end of those albums.

Pictures for today:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Day 48, 5/12/09 -- EBEX: We know drama

Today was full of dramatic moments. Before we get to the drama, though, Science: We got the majority of the remaining baffles up -- a big task that had been delayed for a good while because others were doing things with the gondola. We test-fitted our window baffle, the so-called "champagne bucket". Ilan, Hannes, and François worked on fixing some issues with our readout crates. Jeff did a lot of work on baffle supports. I cut some holes in foam and painted some sun-exposed metal on the gondola. And new people showed up: Greg from Brown, Sam from SISSA, Chaoyun and Kate from Minnesota, and Joy returned from a weekend with her parents. As if the high bay weren't crowded enough!

Now for the drama:

First, Governor Bill Richardson flew in to Fort Sumner. We have no idea why, but he landed in a small business jet, and what I think is the town's entire police force -- three cars -- came out to escort him to wherever he was going.

Second, our elevation actuator was replaced with our flight unit. Now, this normally doesn't sound very dramatic, and it shouldn't be. Unfortunately, the person who replaced the actuator forgot to remove the strap that was holding the inner frame in place while the actuator was removed. Now, I was not aware that there was a ratchet strap in place. Hilarity ensues: I move the actuator, and eventually the strap fails with a rather spectacular-sounding BANG, causing all work in the high bay to stop and everyone to gather around to find out what happened. Turns out the steel hook on the end of the strap bent considerably before the webbing itself failed, but nothing ended up damaged in the end.

Last, while painting some metal high up on the gondola, some paint was accidentally spilled onto the gondola below...and into the open ACS crate and its three ~$5000-each electronics boards. After this was discovered, there was a frantic effort to clean up the boards with isopropanol as much as possible. Still waiting to see if all's well...

EDIT: First indications are that the ACS is working.

Actually a fair number of pictures of me today, thanks to Dan who took a whole bunch while I was working:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Day 47, 5/11/09 -- If it's not deadly, you're not trying hard enough

Today was a busy day:

- The Mini-SIP, the NASA electronics package, was installed
- Jeff and Dan nearly finished the primary mirror 'scoop' baffles, and now it looks even bigger than before.
- Ilan and Shaul found a wiring issue with our LED calibrator, and we're trying to devise a workaround
- I prepared some of our outer baffles for a test fit tomorrow and got our 'champagne bucket' window baffle ready for a test fit
- Shaul modified our low-temperature readout boards for better linearity
- Late last night, Will did tests and settled on the final configuration for our garage door springs -- which I now have pictures of!

But the big news is that we are rapidly approaching 'turnaround' high-altitude wind conditions. The NASA crew have started doing flight projections for FIREBall, since they will likely be up first. Right now we are aiming to do our compatibility test on Thursday if the weather is reasonable and declare our flight readiness on Friday. As such, the next few days the posting may be a little light.

We also saw some more local fauna today -- a little frog and a big spider. Check 'em out in the pictures:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Day 46, 5/10/09 -- To boldly go...

Today, Hannes, Dan, and Shaul finished up the last suite of optical/polarimetry calibration tests that need to be done! That means tomorrow, Jeff and I start work on getting the remaining baffles in place. It also means that, today, I had nothing to do. Shaul suggested I go to Clovis, about 60 miles away, so...I did, and saw the new Star Trek movie. I believe it's summarized most succinctly as: This movie is awesome. Go see it. You can thank me later.

When I got back, Daniel wanted me to take some photos of him rockin' his new cowboy hat and mustache, so I happily obliged.


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Day 45, 5/9/09 -- More testing

Today was (and is still) devoted to optical/detector tests. Dan, Hannes, and Shaul are working hard on getting polarization rotation data across our focal plane.

In the meantime, things are breaking. Our GPS system has some sort of burned component inside and one of the receivers no longer works. And the analog channels of our so-called "general housekeeping" boards continue to be problematic.

My solution to our gondola balance issue, a set of garage door extension springs, seems to be working -- in fact, working a little too well! Before, our inner frame wanted to tip forward of its own accord; now, the springs are pulling up on the inner frame. We'll eventually find the sweet spot.

Because the gondola was being used today for optical tests, we couldn't do any more work on baffles. Jeff and I are planning on installing more baffles tomorrow, so we did some prep work for that today.

Not much more to report from here. No pictures today, but I have to remember to get a set of pictures of the garage door springs.

Day 44, 5/8/09 -- An angel gets its wings

Jeff and I (along with occasional help from others) put the big sunshade baffle ears up. They're big. And shiny. And threaten to fall over if you look at them wrong. Launch should be fun.

I also had pretty much the most terrifying half hour of my life, standing/kneeling/crawling on top of the gondola drilling holes to attach one of the support bars for the aforementioned sunshade ears. Sure, I was in a safety harness and was clipped in, but I really didn't want to slip.

Other people did stuff today, but, honestly, it wasn't ginormous foam-and-mylar ears, so it's really not that important. Also, Shaul showed up again. Now he's here permanently until the end of the campaign.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Day 43, 5/7/09 -- Outdoor tests redux

Last night's outdoor pointing system test was kind of a bust -- we got hosed by GPS problems and an arcane, undocumented convention in our flight scheduling code (inherited from another experiment), which meant the entire night was a confusing mess. Luckily, the weather is good tonight as well, so the ACS team is staying and NASA is taking us out once again for full system tests.

We were going to try to observe the moon with the millimeter-wave receiver, but that got shelved due to a programming glitch which caused the power to the bolometer readout to be accidentally shut off. It would have taken Hannes and François quite a bit of time to get the system back up and running again, so we decided to shelve that for the night and let the ACS team have the gondola for themselves the whole evening.

Jeff and I worked on getting the largest pieces of baffling ready to install, but we ran out of time and wouldn't have been able to get the pieces up before the ACS team needed the gondola.

We did see a cool lizard today -- looks like a Texas Horned Lizard. All three of today's pictures are of the lizard:

Day 42, 5/6/09 -- 40 days in the wilderness, now with snakes and explosions!

Well, today certainly was an exciting day. Early in the day, Jeff saw a snake in the high bay. I thought it was cute, but it freaked Jeff out a bit. He started looking up snakes to try and figure out if it was poisonous but had no luck. Maybe one of my readers knows?

FIREBall had their compatibility test today, where CSBF makes sure that none of the science equipment interferes with their stuff. They will probably declare their flight readiness in a day or two.
During their compatibility test, we heard (and felt) a big BOOM -- it turns out that one of the FIREBall guys was hooking up some batteries from CREST and accidentally shorted them. The battery box started hissing, so he took it outside and set it on the ground where it exploded in spectacular fashion. There were pieces of the box and cells from the battery distributed over 200 feet apart. Luckily no one was hurt and no equipment was damaged.

Tonight was also the first clear night we've had in a while, so both us and FIREBall went outside to hang anddo some tests (for us, mostly pointing-related). I just got home at about 4AM, but some of the crew is still there.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Day 41, 5/5/09 -- "It's like, 'how much more black could it be?'"

The answer is...some.

First, the big news today was that CREST finally launched! I didn't get up to watch, but some of the team members who were either still around or came in early got to see it. They launched around 8AM, drifted eastward while ascending toward Portales, and then started drifting westward when it got to its float altitude of about 130,000 feet. In fact, it basically drifted back toward Fort Sumner, at one point getting as close as 9 nautical miles (on the ground) to us, putting it about 27 (non-nautical) miles away line-of-sight. It was REALLY easy to see in the sky, and I put my mom's nice zoom lens to good use (see picture above). You can actually just make out the payload as a little white smudge below the balloon. They terminated just north of Roswell and it looks like they recovered the payload in the evening. Flight (and recovery?) track here -- it'll probably be gone by the time the next payload launches, though.

Ilan was in early to cycle our fridges and get detectors cold again so we can start the next round of detector/optical tests. Jeff and I implemented my awesome garage-door-spring solution to our inner frame balance issue and...well...it didn't completely work. It helped, but we need bigger springs. And I forgot to take pictures. Dan spent the day working on getting the artificial planet set up with his monachromator for the next round of tests while Hannes and François battled buggy code while trying to tune bolometers.

After dinner, we weighed the gondola: 5800 lbs with all batteries and an extra 50 or so lbs of power supplies but without about 100 lbs of baffles. Still, in pretty good shape since we thought we might be significantly over 6000 lbs. Then Jeff and I started applying millimeter-wave absorber to the optics 'cavity' around the cryostat and secondary mirror to control reflections. It's black, and we have a bit more to put on around the secondary and a lot more to put on around the primary, hence the answer that opened the post.

Also, this is my 50th post to this blog. To the nearly 200 unique visitors this site has had -- thanks! I hope you've enjoyed reading as much as I've enjoyed posting.

CREST pictures:

Today's EBEX pictures:

Monday, May 4, 2009

Day 40, 5/04/09 -- Somewhat baffled

After the last fridge cycle ran out late last night, we dedicated all of today to doing work that couldn't happen when other tests were going on. Besides various electronics and software tests, the big change is that we have some of the inner frame baffles in! It looks...sort of ridiculous, but in an awesome way. I'll just let the picture do the talking:
On a side note, it happens fairly frequently that I come home with random bits of hardware in my pocket -- usually things like screws, nuts, washers, or the like. Today is the first time ever that I've gotten home with pop rivets in my pocket.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Day 39, 5/3/09 -- "Layers of deception"

Thus spake Dan, whilst describing the data pouring in on our computer screens. Dan and Hannes have been working all day on doing artificial planet scans but were stymied by drifting pointing sensors making them think they were pointed at the source but when in reality they weren't. Such is life when you're indoors with no reliable absolute pointing sensors. Will showed some plots of maps made from the previous day's scans and they looked terrible -- but that's probably at least partially due to the aforementioned pointing drift issue, which smears the maps out.

Jeff and I finished up most of the foam for the baffles today. I also made some snazzy sheet metal baffle supports, and I have to say, working with sheet metal is great for instant gratification. Unlike machining, which takes a lot of time as you remove metal and the piece slowly comes to shape, with sheet metal things move much more quickly: One step on the shear -- KACHUNK -- and you've cut a piece off. 10 seconds in the brake and you've bent a 90-degree angle. It's a lot of fun.

Michele took a much needed day off in Albuquerque starting yesterday afternoon, and came back in the late afternoon today. Also, CREST is planning launch attempts tomorrow morning and Tuesday morning if tomorrow doesn't work out. I probably won't bother to get up, though, because at this point sleep is more important than watching a launch at 7AM.

No pictures today. Everything looks pretty much the same as it did yesterday.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Day 38, 5/2/09 -- system tests underway

The astute reader will notice that I've stopped giving weather updates. That's because it's mostly always the same -- sunny, warm, and windy. Today, however, it was actually cloudy and it even rained a bit. Even so, we actually got to play some 3-on-3 basketball with the help of Daniel, a Berkeley grad student working on NCT, and they were our best basketball games yet.

Now that the telescope has both mirrors on, we can actually, you know, make sure it works. Actually, even last night, shortly after I left, I found out via a Facebook status update that the telescope was actually able to see our 'artificial planet' and they were taking data to make beam maps. Awesome.

That work continued today, while Will worked on code to actually produce a beam map from previously-taken data. Our elevation drive developed an odd pathology where every so often it would cease to work until someone tapped on the motor lightly. I surmised that the problem was excess brush wear: The motor has high-altitude brushes, which are softer than normal brushes so they arc less (and thus also produce less RF -- bonus!) but wear much more quickly. After I tweaked the brush springs a little bit, it seems that the problem has been fixed.

Jeff spent all day today working on baffles, helped out today by Jerry. They've gotten a LOT done. Almost all of the foam is cut, and they're now well into the process of covering the baffles with aluminized mylar.

I've still been feeling the effects of lack of sleep, with nearly-constant low-grade headaches for the past few days. Today, I went home early and made myself dinner for which I had bought stuff for earlier in the week but hadn't had a chance to make -- a ribeye steak, a potato gratin (sort-of), and a salad. And now, I'm going to bed.

Updates to yesterday's albums, including pictures from Milligan who took lots of pictures while I was busy helping with the secondary mirror install

Today's pictures:

Friday, May 1, 2009

Day 37, 5/1/09 -- a fully operational battle station.

In short: We have a telescope!

For the second day in a row, the CREST launch attempt was scrubbed due to high mid-altitude winds. The weather's going to be pretty bad for the next few days, so probably no more launch attempts for a while.

After fighting a bit with the mirror alignment procedure, Shaul, Britt, and I managed to get the primary mirror mount aligned. In parallel, Dan and Michele worked on getting the artificial planet mounted.

Jeff worked for most of the day on getting foam cut for the baffles. I took a little trip to Clovis to get some supplies for the balance-weight-reduction mechanism (i.e. big-ass springs). I also went to Lowe's for some other supplies for the baffles and brought pizza back for the lab crew.

Once I got back, Britt, Michele and I, with the help of Joy operating the crane, mounted the secondary mirror. We had to fight with it a bit in order to get it on -- a redesign of the mirror mount produced some interference with the secondary mirror's stiffening ribs, meaning I got to take an angle grinder to the backside of our $100,000 secondary mirror. Twice. No biggie.

We already knew from our Nevis experience that putting the primary mirror on is actually much easier, so I took a little break and when I got back, the mirror was on! Dan and Michele then started the process of aligning the artificial planet beam with the EBEX telescope beam, guided by a "laser". This was nearly 11PM, and I went home.

Unfortunately I don't have all of my pictures from today because I left the DSLR's memory card and card reader in the lab (usually I copy the files over before coming home). You'll just have to make do until tomorrow with the few I took with my little Canon ELPH:

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Day 36, 4/30/09 -- I can has EBEX pls?

Now that the entire experiment is together and running off of one flight computer, there's been a bit of pushing and shoving for access to the gondola and flight computer. Some people want to debug code, others want to run detectors, others want to do scan tests, etc, so it's become a bit of a logistical hassle coordinating work. It hasn't been too bad yet, but we'll see how it goes in the future.

Last night, during the scan tests, Will and others added 200 lb of balancing weight to the cryostat to allow the elevation drive to work properly. Of course, this is 200 lb we can't really spare, so I'm trying to come up with a solution that will save us weight but still allow reliable elevation motion.

Other work that went on today: Some work on fixing some little electronics issues, Ilan cycled our fridges so our detectors are now cold, Hannes and François are working on tuning SQUIDs and detectors, Dan and Michele got a lot of work done on setting up the artificial planet, and Shaul and I are having lots of problems with mirror alignment.

CREST might launch tomorrow (sort of marginal conditions), but I'll be here early anyway to do more work on the mirror alignment with Shaul before he heads back to Minnesota.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Day 35, 4/29/09 -- This post intentionally left blank

No 'real' post today. I've hit a wall of tiredness and decided that the time I normally use to sort through pictures and write a blog post would be better spent sleeping.

Nothing interesting happened today anyway.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Day 34, 4/28/09 -- Cryostat meets Doc Ock

Last night, after the installation of the cryostat, the gondola was handed over to Will, Joy, and Daniel for more ACS/scan tests. At some point in the very early morning, it seems that our elevation drive system malfunctioned and overheated. We're still investigating the cause of this, but we have both a spare motor and actuator

After starting the installation of electronics crates yesterday, that work continued today. For a while, everything was on, but Ilan found a short in one of the bolometer power crates so that had to come off for debugging. François basically spent the entire day on the gondola getting detector cables in place and getting our RF shielding 'dryer hose' buttoned up. Now the cryostat looks a little bit like Doc Ock from Spiderman.

After I dealt with a whole bunch of administrative stuff in the morning and then having our weekly telecon, Shaul and I worked on mirror mount alignment. On the first attempt, we were able to get the mount to within 0.050" or so of its nominal position -- not bad for trying to align two things that are roughly 50" apart, but not actually good enough for what we need (less than 0.020". The two mirrors are roughly 90" apart, and need to be aligned to the same tolerance!) . After puzzling over this for a few hours, we couldn't come up with a good reason for why the alignment procedure didn't work, so we're probably just going to try again tomorrow.

The weather here turned windy and rainy so CREST wasn't able to launch today. However, the weather the next couple of days is supposed to be better, so maybe they'll launch Thursday? We were informed that the high-altitude-wind 'turnaround' will reach New Mexico in about 2 weeks, after which there will be a 1-2 week period of relatively low-speed high-altitude winds. This corresponds well with our planned flight readiness date.

Also, now I can officially say I've been here over a month (for any month of the year!). We've made a ton of progress, but there's still a lot left to do and we're going into over-overtime mode to get everything done. As if we weren't getting enough sleep...


Monday, April 27, 2009

Day 33, 4/27/09 -- Cryostat and gondola, together again for the first time.

The big news today is that we got the cryostat installed on the gondola. We had done it before, last year at our pre-flight integration at Columbia's Nevis lab, but now it's for real.

All in all, it was a pretty smooth process. Since we've done it before once, we knew what to expect, and it took only a little bit longer than I predicted (four hours instead of three, start to finish). We then started the process of aligning our mirror mounts, installing detector readout electronics on the gondola, and just general "get it working"-ness.

Also, with the cryostat on the gondola, we were able to clear up a ton of floor space in the high bay, which we'll need when we do full telescope tests with our 'artificial planet'.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Day 32, 4/25 -- The calm before the storm

Since the detectors are still cold, Dan and others spent a lot of today doing calibration tests. I'm happy to report that they were able to get all of the major tests done -- another big milestone, and what will hopefully be a big part of Dan's thesis! Great job, Dan.

I spent most of today thinking about the baffles -- mostly, how are we going to attach all of this crazy crap to the gondola and have it not fall apart. We have a plan, and some of the last bits of material will be ordered shortly.

I also spent some time today playing around with Google Analytics. I had set up an Analytics account for this blog a few days after I started it but then forgot completely until I was reminded by a post over at Uncertain Principles. With it, we found out that Jeff's mom not only checks this blog from work but also from their cabin (hi Jeff's mom!), and someone from Estonia has come (once). Also, apparently some of the CSBF people in Palestine, TX read the blog too. I was, uh, just kidding about having driven the forklift...

No pictures today. But tomorrow, we put the cryostat and gondola together (for the 2nd time), and then things get really fun. Stay tuned...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Day 31, 4/25/09 -- The day after

Last night's test of the gondola/ACS was, by all accounts, a resounding success. The ACS team got the gondola scanning back and forth, with all of the sensors working, downlinking data over the transmitters and commanding through the telemetry system -- the whole works. Really awesome. Great job guys and gals! Also, big props to the NASA crew who stayed all night to support the effort.

Since I left early last night (2AM as opposed to ~9AM for the ACS team), the high bay was relatively deserted. Hannes flew back to Minnesota today for a little break, so François, Ilan, and Dan were the only other people in the high bay all morning besides me and Jeff. Dan continued doing calibration tests, and we had quite a scare when it seemed that some of Dan's data (a few hours worth!) accidentally got deleted from the computer's hard drive! It turns out that, besides there being another copy of the data on another computer (albeit in a less-accessible form), it turns out the data files weren't even deleted in the first place. Whew!

Shaul showed up today as well, and proceeded to get a rundown on the status of all major systems from the relevant parties. Jeff and I spent a fair part of the afternoon painting some of the exposed metal on the gondola. It turns out that, in the near-space environment of a high-altitude balloon, the sun can warm up bare aluminum to hundreds of degrees Celsius! Painting it white not only reduces the amount of sunlight absorbed, but also increases the amount of heat that can be radiated away, keeping the entire thing cool. Pretty neat!

A few pictures today at: