Google+

Altitude Control System, part I

In just 5 short months we will be launching the Adler’s most sophisticated (and complex) mission yet: the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse Mission. With TSEM we are hoping to place a camera in the path of totality at 80-90,000 ft, well above the clouds. This is nothing new for us… we have put cameras up many dozens of times… What will be special about this flight, however, will be that only will we be streaming the camera’s live, but we will be actively pointing it at the eclipse! To accomplish this we are going to need an exceptionally stable platform. If you look at our usual video you can see that maintaining pointing while the payload is undergoing its usual gyrations would be crazy!

So how are we going to stabilize our payload? To figure this out we first have to understand where most of the payload motion is coming from. Something must be pushing on the balloon/payload to keep it moving/turning/bobbing/swaying. Otherwise the motions would die out over the course of a few minutes. What could be pushing on the balloon/payload? The only thing it could be is the surrounding air… Our first thought was that it might be coming from wind… but that doesn’t make a lot of sense… The balloon is floating *with* the wind so the relative movement to the air is zero, or at least very close to it.

So what is it? Turns out there is a motion of the balloon through the air: upwards! As the balloon rises it pushes through the air at a goodly clip. It is just like a vertical wind! Our typical mission rises at a rate of 10-15 mph. If you’ve ever held a balloon of that size in a 10-15 mph wind you’ll appreciate just what a buffeting that can provide. It is no wonder that our cameras sway around like crazy for most of the flight.

So what we really need is to reduce our ascent (or descent) rate to a much lower number. If we could limit it to 1 mph we’d experience 100x less buffeting. Luckily we have a system to do just that. Last Summer David Abramov and Jay Yu helped to design and test a system to vent helium during a high altitude balloon flight. The video below shows the spectacular results of a test where we vented just enough helium to reach neutral buoyancy. That is, we were neither ascending nor descending. The section at the end… the camera wasn’t stopped for that, it is at full speed!

 

This prototype system was a nozzle insert that opened at a given time and then closed again when the vertical velocity was reduced to zero or near zero. It worked nicely, but it is heavy and bulky, difficult to set up, and requires an independent cutdown system. We want to do better! In Part II I’ll describe the new design David and Ken worked on this past autumn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://farhorizonsproject.com/blog/altitude-control-system-part-i/

ALAN 2016, day 2

Greetings from Transylvania!  Geza, Ken, and I are attending the ALAN 2016 conference in the city of Cluj-Napoca in Romania.  (ALAN = Artificial Light At Night)  Btw, we took a walking tour today (organized by the conference folks), and learned that “Cluj” and “Napoca” actually mean the same thing.  Er, and that thing is…oh yeah, surrounded by barriers, like mountains & rivers, or something to that effect.

Today was the second day of the conference, and Geza rocked the house with his outstanding presentation about our NITESat mission.  Lots of folks have expressed enthusiasm about the mission, including some who noted an active interest in participating by setting up their own ground stations for down-linking data and/or participating in GONet.

One of the great aspects of the conference, which has impressed many of the attendees (including me), is the wide diversity of disciplines represented that all share an interest in ALAN, with focuses ranging from art/architectural design and tourism development, to observation and measurement methods/technologies, to impacts on health and behavior (both for humans and wildlife), to philosophy, and the list goes on.  In true science fashion, questions are always encouraged, and both support and (constructive) criticism are offered and received openly and always respectfully. Cool!

Tomorrow is the 3rd day of the conference.  I’m looking forward to what the next presenters have to share with us.  (I’m especially looking forward to the presentation on “the ethics of artificial nighttime lighting: creating a taxonomy of darkness as a moral value”.  Should be an interesting presentation, not to mention the discussion afterwards!)  I’ll post more after the conference is over.  I’ll also try to put in some photos.

Noroc!  (Cheers!)

Permanent link to this article: http://farhorizonsproject.com/blog/alan-2016-day-2/

Flight #97: Up, Up and Away!

Written by Adler Teen Intern Sidney Madden,

It was a scorching hot Chicago day when I arrived at the Adler. I was not in the chipperest of moods because it was 7:30 a.m. and I yearned to still be tucked away in my bed. As I walked up and out to meet the campers, I saw speckles of bright green shirts already on the lawn, eagerly waiting for the day to begin. They didn’t technically have to be here until 8ish, but there stood at least ten of them, ready to work on their experiments before the launch.

As we headed downstairs, the campers tried to figure out the frustrating Wombat game. When we entered the project space, the campers dispersed to perfect their experiments. A group of girls were making oobleck in the corner, playing with the different ratios of baking soda and water for the perfect consistency to send up to near space. Another group vigorously worked to put the finishing touches on a glider they had constructed in a day. One boy separated his clovers into Ziploc baggies: one to keep on the ground as a control and another to put in the balloon.

At around 9:00, we boarded the vans with experiments and flight equipment in tow. The campers excitedly chattered as we initially took off, making predictions of what would happen and formulating hypotheses. Their excitement was contagious. Quickly, we shifted gears to playing the ABC game and more Wombat.

“LISTEN!” Becca, who already figured out Wombat, said. “If this is a Wombat, and that is a Wombat, are you a Wombat?”

At the Launch Site

At the Launch Site

“No?” I guessed.
Groans from around the van followed. “No, Sidney, LISTEN. If that is a Wombat and this is a Wombat, is Becca a Wombat?”

 

“Yes?” More groans ensued.

The game quickly died down when it became apparent I would not be able to accurately identify a Wombat.

We finally arrived at Koerner Airport, the rustic Kankakee airport, at about 11:30. Airik and Ethan stressed to the campers which gate to go to in case they got lost during the launch. I quickly wrote down the gate number on my arm in case I got lost too. Geza, the flight supervisor, and the flight prep team quickly began setting up for launch. Airik and Ethan helped the other campers setting up their experiments.

I mostly observed and took photos of the process. I got the opportunity to talk to one of the college interns who worked in the Far Horizons lab, and hear about his experiment. He and another intern were working on a cut-down system, that if successful, would be used during the total solar eclipse next summer. The campers’ experiments weren’t nearly as complex as this, but one girl named Meghan came close. This was not Meghan’s fi

Balloon being blown up

The Balloon Being Blown Up

rst Mission: Near Space camp, and in fact it was her fifth summer at the Adler. She had spent all week hacking a camera and working in the Far Horizons lab to capture cosmic rays. Meghan was also on the flight prep team with Geza. I walked over to check up on her progress.

 

“How’s it going Meghan?” I asked, “Are you excited?”

“This is like Christmas morning for me.” -Meghan, Mission: Near Space Camp extraordinaire

“This is like Christmas morning for me.” -Meghan, Mission: Near Space Camp extraordinaire

“Are you kidding?” She responded, “It’s like Christmas morning for me.”

Not long after that, the largest balloon I had ever seen was pumped up.

Meghan and Trum Adjusting Helium Tanks

Meghan and Truman Adjusting Helium Tanks

Not the party balloons you see at Jewel, but a massive cream-colored, egg-shaped balloon. The flight team worked to attach and secure the experiments to the balloon. Then the interns took over as they made sure the cut-down system was in place. Carefully, the balloon was moved from the safe and cool garage of Koerner Airport to the sweltering hot outside world. As last minute touches were made, Airik and Ethan rallied the campers to stand on one side.

“10! 9! 8! 7! 6! 5! 4! 3! 2! 1! BLASTOFF!” We screeched.

Geza let go of the balloon. We watched it go up further and further until it became just a dot in the stratosphere, but there was an excited, nervous atmosphere back on the ground with the campers. Many continued to look for the balloon long after we couldn’t see it.

The launch took way longer than usual. It was already 2:00 p.m. by the time we all piled back into the vans. We switched seats in the car so the navigation and retrieval teams could be closer to Ken and Airik. We would have lunch depending on where the balloon was. We ended up at a classy Kankakee KFC, where the campers ate and Ken tracked the balloon. KFC, unintentionally, became the stakeout headquarters. The campers passed time by catching new Pokemon and playing Uno.

The adult crew huddled around a long counter, watching the balloon’s whereabouts. They came back with the news that the cut-down system didn’t work, and it wouldn’t land until late tonight.

“We can stay!” Creighton shouted.

“Yeah, we can wait!” Truman chimed in.

It was decided we would go home to return the campers to their parents, and then the adult crew would head back out to find the balloon.

Disappointed kids made their way to the vans. The excitement was noticeably gone and the car ride back home was silent. Campers fell asleep, others listened to music, some just glumly stared out the window. I felt horrible for these kids, it was like waking up on Christmas morning to a stocking full of coal.

The next day, the campers were able to get their experiments back. The oobleck was cold, the glider broken, and the clover spent to near space was more alive than its on-the-ground counterpart. Meghan’s camera hadn’t worked, but Michelle invited her to join the Far Horizons team as a volunteer to fix her mistakes.

I firmly believe there are certain days I know I will remember. Watching an egg-shaped balloon float to 70,000 feet above are one of those days. More than that, I will remember trying to figure out Wombat with the campers. I will remember watching them carefully plan their experiments. Above all else, I will remember the excitement in the air when the campers let the balloon go.

 

Ray Wise Photographer

Ray was my fellow photographer, and actually gave me quite a few tips. In case you were wondering, Ray does have a Go Pro around his head and a Canon in his hands. Double the cameras, double the fun.

 

 Ethan helping campers attach the experiments to the balloon.


Ethan helping campers attach the experiments to the balloon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Ken and Sebastian predicting where the balloon will land.


Ken and Sebastian predicting where the balloon will land.

The balloon seeing the outside world for the first time.

The balloon seeing the outside world for the first time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Geza, Jay, and David checking the cut-down system.

Geza, Jay, and David checking the cut-down system.

The balloon in her full glory.

The balloon in her full glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BLASTOFF!

BLASTOFF!

“You can always live mas with lunchtime launch sightings”

“You can always live mas with lunchtime launch sightings”

Permanent link to this article: http://farhorizonsproject.com/blog/flight-93-up-up-and-away/

Older posts «

» Newer posts

%d bloggers like this: