Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Admin note

Since we're moving to a house, we won't have internet access at home for a while, so new posts will show up in the morning after we get back to the high bay rather than at night after coming back from work.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Day 5, 3/30/09 -- Annie are you okay?

Monday -- the start of the workweek for the rest of the world, just another day in the life of a balloon campaign. The day started off with our normal monday morning electronics conference call -- attended via an iPhone on speakerphone in my motel room. It worked surprisingly well for us, though the other participants complained of an echo.

At the high bay, I took some measurements and pictures for Dan so he can plan on the mounting scheme for the artificial planet in the high bay. Then, Jeff and I installed the fridges on the cold plate of the cryostat, basically bringing to a close all of the work that can be done on the instrument until more parts arrive. Not having all the parts has been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, we're delayed because we don't have everything we need to put everything together as quickly as possible. On the other hand, because we know there's only so much we can get done, the pace of work has been quite reasonable -- we're not working until midnight every night like we did in New York. The focal plane, some optics stack parts, and the half-wave-plate will all show up later this week, along with more manpower.

Jerry showed up from Brown today, so we hope to get the star camera up and running soon. Jeff started work on putting his half-wave-plate support/drive assembly together, while I machined some spacers for the new elevation actuator mounting scheme. Walking back and forth between the hangar and high bay, I really got a sense for just how windy it was: I could do a passable impression of the sweet Michael Jackson "leaning" dance move from the Smooth Criminal video.

One of the FIREBall guys (thanks Ryan!) gave us a lead on a house just outside of town (in "Old Fort Sumner", about a mile past the Super8). Daniel and I checked it out in the afternoon, and it is a super nice place owned by a couple who are the nicest people to have ever existed on the entire planet. Not only is it fully-furnished, with nice living area and kitchen, it also has a grill! Milligan, Jeff, and I will be moving in to the house shortly. The owner gave me the keys and I haven't even given him a check yet!

For lunch, we went to the hamburger stand, where I ordered a patty melt (delish) and Jeff ordered the tacos which he claimed were pretty good but could have been improved by some green chile. At dinner, we found that Fred's is closed on Mondays as well as Sundays, so we ended up trying the last remaining untried restaurant in Fort Sumner, Sadie's. We had been warned that Sadie's was pretty awful, but it was passable. Fred's is a little better by most everyone's opinion. But, hey, any port in a storm, right?

Pictures: http://picasaweb.google.com/asad137/EBEXInNewMexico033009#

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Day 4, 3/29/09 -- too tired to think of a clever title

Today Jeff and I got into the high bay a little later than usual -- the FIREBall team wanted some time with the lights out so they could do some sort of alignment of their optical system. Milligan went ahead with the Columbia crew a little earlier.

Jeff and I continued with our alignment of the field lens, and got it to within spec. From that point we re-assembled the rest of the optics stack and its RF shielding. After flipping the cryostat and removing the coldplate, we discovered a little snafu with some of the sensor wires running up to the stack so we had to replace a couple of sensors, but it was smooth sailing after that. Tomorrow we plan on installing fridges on the coldplate and Jeff is going to do some tests with his half-wave plate system.

Because the FIREBall crew wanted to shut the lights out again, so we planned on taking a bike ride out to the grocery store around lunchtime so they could shut off the lights. It turns out that on Sundays, the Fort Sumner grocery store doesn't open until the afternoon -- and none of the restaurants are open either. On the way back, I got fed up with the slow pace of the rest of the group...so I turned on the jets and rode as hard as I could back to the high bay. Turns out, this was a terrible idea because I'm not nearly in as good shape as I had hoped.

One of the fun things we found today was the owl hanging out in the CSBF hangar building (where the launch vehicles are kept). We spent a good 15 minutes or so trying to get a decent picture.

Later, before we left for the night, I found the hatch to the roof of the high bay. I got a few pictures but I'll need to take a tripod up to get some decent ones.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Day 3, 3/28/09 -- New Ventures

When we got back last night, we noticed that the parking lot of the Super8 was packed -- apparently the interstate was closed so all of the traffic was diverted through Ft. Sumner. I bet the motel made more money last night than it had in the past month.

At the high bay, Jeff and I continued work on the receiver. I assembled the optics box onto the cold plate while Jeff put the 4K bucket in its flight configuration (no NDF, no extraneous sensors). Because the field lens, which sits in the 4K bucket, is separate from the optics box, it needs to be aligned to the rest of the optics below. The remainder of the day was spent installing the optics box, 4K optics, and attempting to align the field lens. It's still a...work in progress.

Michele and Britt continued work on getting the attitude control system and flight computer crates flight-ready. The ACS is done, while the flight computer still needs some work. Joy and Daniel continued mounting sensors on the gondola. Today the weather was better than yesterday -- it got up to nearly 60 degrees and we had the high-bay door open for a good part of the afternoon.

Jeff and I both have noticed that the high-bay has a preponderance of obstacles right at shin height. The worst of these are the motors that drive the east-west direction of the gantry crane -- I call them the ShinBuster(TM) (see below). The other day I slammed into one of them HARD, and I've got a nice bruise developing. Would it have been so hard to put a right angle drive on it??

On the food front, we tried out our third (of four) Fort Sumner restaurants, Dariland. Described to us as "basically like a Dairy Queen", we knew what to expect going in, and got pretty much exactly what we expected. The hamburgers were morphologically and structurally very similar to the ones from the hamburger shack (large diameter, and a very flat, thin patty that doesn't have a lot of structural integrity), making me think that they both get their food from the same vendor (probably Sysco).

I've decided that I'm going to bring a camera with me every time we go out to eat so I can get pictures of the food, so be on the lookout for that.

We had been informed that Fred's was going to be closing early (2PM...on a Saturday??), so we had to make alternate dinner arrangements. Jeff and I decided we'd just get some sandwich-making supplies from the local grocery store, Dave's Venture Foods (what makes them "Venture" foods, I suspect we'll never know). It's surprising how good a simple sandwich can taste when you've been eating exclusively greasy and/or cheesy food for a couple of days.

Today's pictures:

Nice shot from Milligan

Milligan took this nice wide-angle view from his corner of the computer area, showing the crane, gondola, cryostat, and high bay.

Milligan says this shot was stitched together from 6 different individual frames.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Day 2, 3/27/09 -- Fish day!

Day 2 was pretty straightforward. We spent some more time setting up the 'cryo' area of the high bay and started doing receiver work in earnest. Daniel and Joy worked on getting pointing sensors installed on the gondola, Michele continued battling with making the flight computer flight-ready, and Britt...well, I don't know what she was doing today. What am I, her mother?

Jeff spent much of the day dealing with the optics stack and fixing some gaps in the cryostat's RF shielding. Because the cryostat uses a SQUID-based readout system which is very susceptible to RF interference, special attention was paid to making sure the SQUIDs are shielded from the strong RF generated by the balloon's transmitters. Part of the shielding, around the window, was found to have some gaps that Jeff sealed with RF tape.

Lunch was the highlight of today. One of the 'restaurants', the hamburger stand, sells fried catfish and shrimp on Fridays -- and let me tell you, we'll be looking forward to this every Friday. Turns out that Fred's also has a fish special on Friday -- must be the Catholic influence in the town.

We also spent some time doing some administrative stuff -- I signed us up for phone service in the high bay, and we looked at some non-motel living options. The two houses we saw were complete dumps, but the Columbia gang saw a nice apartment that we'll be renting.



The bartender at Fred's is the coolest person in the whole town, as far as I'm concerned.

Day 1, 3/26/09 -- Coulda had a V6.

Thursday was a lovely day in New Mexico -- mostly sunny, and shorts-and-t-shirt warm. We got to the CSBF high bay at the Fort Sumner airport around 10 AM after a short stop at the local grocery store. There, we were informed that, yes, indeed, there are 4 restaurants in the town of Ft. Sumner -- and eight churches. Everything in town closes by 8:30 PM, except the liquor store (which is really just a part of one of the restaurants, Fred's) which closes at 10 PM.

Once in the high bay (left), we started the task of setting up our work area. We figured out where we wanted our computers to go and Milligan began setting them up near the Columbia computers. Jeff and I started uncrating the cryostat that holds our millimeter-wave receiver so we could put it on its cart and start putting the instrument back together.

We're currently sharing the high bay with another payload called FIREBall, an ultraviolet telescope designed for studying faint intergalactic emission. Their gondola is pretty sweet -- almost all made of carbon-fiber tubes and sweet spherical connectors between them (see pictures here).

Unfortunately, because the crane in our area of the high bay is way better than theirs, they asked to use our crane to install their delicate mirrors -- which meant they were in the middle of where we wanted to set up. That basically killed our afternoon, which is why there are so many pictures in today's album.

We went to eat at Fred's, and I was pleasantly surprised by the tastiness of my burrito thingy. On the way back, we decided to see what our rental Toyota Camry was made of...so we drove out onto the runway at the airport. Note: It was REALLY dark. None of the runway lights were on, which made us confident we weren't going to get hit by a plane landing, because there's no way they would have been able to even SEE the runway if they had wanted to. Once at the end of the runway, I turned around, stopped, planted my left foot on the brake and floored the gas with my right. I was expecting a reasonable screech of burned rubber followed by not-unreasonable acceleration. I was given the merest hint of a chirped tire and followed by acceleration that would hardly make an '82 Civic hatchback jealous. I nearly drove off the road (er, runway) from laughing so hard. Note to self: Next time, get the Impala.

When we got back to the high bay, FIREBall was out of our way so we started setting up our work area. We worked on this until about 10 PM and then left for the night...at which point it had started snowing. We can't even escape the snow in New Mexico.

Today's picture album:

Day 0, 3/25/09 -- travel!

Ok, this post is a few days late...I'll be better in the future.

The EBEX balloon flight will be launched from a NASA facility in a town called Fort Sumner, New Mexico. The plan is that a few of us would fly in early to get everything set up and start work on the millimeter-wave receiver while the Columbia crew got the gondola up and running. Reinforcements from Minnesota would arrive roughly a week later.

Jeff, Milligan, and I left from Minneapolis on a 2:55PM flight on Southwest. A few things to note here:

1. Southwest now flies from MSP! Our (one-way) tickets to Albuquerque were only $120 apiece.

2. If, on the Southwest website, you see a fare that says "XYZ/2", run. This means the flight makes TWO stops. We didn't realize this. All of the flights from MSP go through Midway, but our flight also stopped in Kansas City. We didn't have to change planes there, but it was annoying.

3. There is no 3.

We arrived in Albuquerque at about 8:30PM and headed to the rental car office. There, we had our choice of either a silver Chevy Impala or a white Toyota Camry. Being the America-hating pinko liberals that we are, we opted for the Camry. We found out later this was a poor choice.

We met up with a friend of mine from grad school at the Frontier Restaurant on the recommendation of a friend (thanks Chris!). After dinner, we got on the road at about 10PM for the drive to Fort Sumner. We made it to the Super 8 motel in Fort Sumner at about 1AM, where we were pleasantly surprised to find free wifi...which, of course, meant that I stayed up for nearly another hour.


Hi everyone!

I'm creating this blog so people (friends, colleagues, acquaintances, enemies, random internet strangers, etc) can follow along with the trials and travails of the flight campaign for our experiment, EBEX, a cosmic microwave background polarimeter designed to look for B-mode CMB polarization. I might even try to throw some physics in the posts.

On an administrative level, I'll be posting all of the pictures on my Picasa account. Some small subset of these pictures will make it into the posts, but I'll make sure to put a link for each day's pictures in each post as necessary.

Don't forget to add the blog to your RSS or equivalent syndication feed to get news of new posts.