Interns Turn In Powerful Presentations

2016 ISGC Interns Ricky Tobey, Jocelyn Mondragon and Zach El Metennani at their poster presentation

It’s all about the power. This month our team of three undergraduates completed their four-month internship in a well-attended public poster session at the Space Visualization Lab. They explored heat and power management in a CubeSat modeled after the NITESat Mission design. This was the tenth year the Adler has hosted college interns thanks to funding by the Illinois Space Grant Consortium.

The experiments were a truly cooperative group effort. Each of their experiments supported and provided data for each other. Jocelyn Mondragon presented her project Simulation of Interior and External Heat Distribution for Small Satellites. The temperature monitoring array she designed provided heat distribution information for Ricky Tobey’s experiment Investigating the Potential of Liquid Gallium as a Method of Heat Transfer In Satellites. The power for Ricky’s project came from Zachary El Metennani experiment, Managing Variable Power Input of Solar Panels on a CubeSat.

After month’s of background research, experiment design and testing, the team completed a model 2U CubeSat housing all their work.  The big day was upon them. They launched their experiments into the stratosphere on February 4th. We’re still waiting for it to return…

No, it was not lost in space. Unfortunately their payload separated from the flight at some point. Perhaps when some farmer is getting out to the fields this spring we may get a call. Until then, we wait. Not to be daunted by the loss, the interns took their designs and lessons learned and created impressive presentations. Sometimes the best lessons come from the most challenging of situations.


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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.







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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!)

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