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.