Monday, October 11, 2010

Deployment & Vibration Testing

Although I got a vacation on Sunday, Friday and Saturday were very very long days (14.5 and 12.5 hours respectively). However, we got a lot done (by NASA standards at least) - we went through all of the vibration testing and some of the deployment testing. For the vibe tests, they mount the rocket on a vibration table:
Wayne in the padded room
Then they vibrate it at various frequencies in different directions. They do the x, y and z (or thrust) axis and the do random patterns too, to try and determine inherent resonant frequencies of the payload. I watched one test... it got pretty loud when the vibration went up to 2,000 Hz (that's 2,000 vibration cycles a second!) and luckily nothing went too wrong with our instruments. Although we did find out later that perhaps one of our integral screws worked its way out during the tests. Uh oh. It's easy to fix though. Most of the time, I can't really watch the tests. I'm stuck in another room watching various screen and strip charts for our instrument read-outs. Here's an example of what I stare at part of the day.
Looks like the future!
Between vibration tests we did a few deploy tests. This is to check that every piece that ejects off the payload will do so nicely without effecting our instruments too much. Saturday we did a nose cone deploy test, where they hang the payload upside down in a padded room (first picture) and then "fire" the nose cone eject V-bands. They pop off at an amazing speed and the nose cone falls into the pile of cardboard boxes below -- really high tech stuff. I took a video from the upper mezzanine, looking through a plexiglass shield down into the padded room. Check it out, it's kind of fun.

Here's the nose cone after they've ejected it from the payload. The remainder of the tests will be done without the cap on.
Poor little nose cone
Overall the tests have gone well and the news is good, all except for that errant screw. Today was a semi-long day... we're still here at 9pm and not going home any time soon. But we weren't allowed to come in until noon since it was a safety hazard while they were doing pyro stuff. Tomorrow is mag cal testing and the final post-vibe sequence test. I may get to go home eventually! Tonight I will leave you with a most excellent packaging label. I want a whole roll of these stickers.
Critical! We're serious!

Friday, October 8, 2010


Integration is moving along. Slowly, but moving. According to some, this is them going top speed, so I can't complain. But there is definitely a lot of "hurry up and wait" syndrome going around. Been getting here by 7:30-8 am and leaving around 8 pm. Not too bad since a couple people have done 6am-10pm days last week!

Payload without the nose cone (you can see it sitting in the background)

Frozen condensation outside the liquid nitrogen hose

Yesterday we made it through pre-vibe sequence tests. That means we did a few mock launch sequences (before vibration tests) where we mimic the countdown, turn all systems on in sequence, turn on high-voltages in sequence and even blow a little ACS gas (attitude control system). One test, the all-fire test, was just like the launch will go: everything turning on at the right times. The other two tests were the no-fire tests or the power backups tests, where they didn't turn all systems on. This was to check for redundancies in the power systems.

Mock launch sequence

The actual 800 some seconds when we are doing the sequence is pretty exciting. I have to run back and forth between a couple of screens and strip charts to check on the health of my instruments throughout the sequence. And there are a few events that I have to keep an eye on, such as when we turn on the despin motor for our imager or when we turn on the high voltage to a few of our other instruments. There are several other experiment teams running back and forth watching at the same time, so it gets a bit hectic. In the picture above, Jim Diehl (our Telemetry Engineer) is calling the events and watching the overall progress of the count. He's the one in the foreground with the phone. Everything went pretty swimmingly so we are moving on today to the vibration testing. And then comes the post-vibe sequencing. Fun stuff!

This is Phil's "I'm a real scientist!" pose

In the end, if you haven't understood anything at all that I've said, just go watch Apollo 13 again. It's the same thing. I swear. :)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Time to Restart the Blog!!

It's that time again! My rocket adventures continue. This time I will be traveling to snowy Norway with the hopes of successfully launching a sounding rocket into the polar cusp region of the Earth's magnetosphere.

Right now, I'm at Wallops Flight Facility busily trying to integrate the rocket payload and getting it ready to ship to Norway. To the left, you can see the the rocket on the spin table, where just last night they spun it up to 3 Hz (which is 180 rpm - pretty fast!) to test whether or not it was balanced properly (it was not). I'll be hanging out here off and on for the next two weeks or (gasp!) maybe more while the process of integration shuffles slowly toward an acceptable conclusion.

The next step is to travel to Norway. I'll be leaving from Boston on Saturday, November 13th and arriving many flights later in Andenes, Norway. After 2 weeks in Andenes, at the Andoya Rocket Range, helping to get things up and running there, I will scoot off to the far, far North: Longyearbyen, a cozy little arctic town on the island of Svalbard, Norway. There I will remain until the rocket launches! To the right, you can see a little map I made showing my two locations. Longyearbyen is at 78°N (just 12° south of the geographic north pole!) and so it will be dark for 24 hours a day during my stay. This is a vast difference from my last northern expedition to the North Slope of Alaska. The sleepy village of Kaktovik where I stayed 2 years ago is only at 70°N latitude, and during that particular time window (late February) we had several hours of dawn/dusk sunlight per day. This trip I will see none while in Longyearbyen. My boss describes it as pretty surreal to see schoolchildren running home from school with backpacks on under the nighttime sky, with only street lights to illuminate the way.

Well, there will be more updates to come. Stay tuned. I'm ready for another arctic adventure!