Wednesday, December 15, 2010


We launched! The RENU sounding rocket was launched in the morning of December 12th from Andøya Rocket Range. Dr. Marc Lessard, my boss and the PI, called the launch into a spectacular science event. After having some bad luck with winds (solar and atmospheric), we finally got a day where things were looking good. We were ready, stalled on the first smaller event, and fired into the awesome second one that came by - amazing launch call, Marc! We fired into a great situation: much ionospheric heating, lots of soft precipitation (red aurora) and ion upflow was seen in the radar beam. Everything we had hoped for!

During the launch, a few issues occurred with the payload. As it stands, there were definitely some anomalies but it is too soon to tell how all the instruments & hardware fared. During the coming weeks and months, we will start to sift through the data and piece together what happened when we had strange signals aboard the payload. This is a long, complicated process since massive amounts of data are transmitted during the short, 10 minute flight via radio signals to ground stations as the payload passes overhead. We had signal locks from all satellite ground stations, but there are always inevitable dropouts which have to be compensated for. In all, we may not get all the data we would ideally want, but I'm very excited to take a look at the data we do have. The payload team from Wallops included some extremely hard-working and dedicated people - I have no doubt that they will start getting answers very soon and do their best to put together the puzzle pieces.

Personally, I had a fantastic learning experience, unrivaled by anything in my graduate career thus far. I was fortunate enough to meet some incredible scientists from Norway and the US, give my very first science report over the intercom (like a real PI!!), discover a brand new (to me!) part of the world, and learn an incredible amount from Marc, my advisor. This rocket stuff can be tricky. It can be depressing at times, exhilarating at others. Frustrating, humbling, exciting, lonely and inspiring. But I think I'm catching on... :-)

I can't say it enough, I have worked with the most amazing people on this project. New friends and colleagues, old acquaintances - it has all been a blast. A special thanks for the birthday dinner in Andenes and to those who put up with me when I wasn't in the greatest of moods.

This is not the end! I have several more posts of rocket motors and assembly that I never got around to, so they will be posted posthumously (R.I.P. RENU). Stay tuned...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Driving to KHO!

Enjoy the video below of our adventurous drive to KHO.
Just a normal day in Longyearbyen.

Link to go straight to YouTube is here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rocket Payload

Here is the RENU rocket! Very big and very full. The bottom 4 items are the 4 motor stages (more about those later) and the top piece is the actual payload. Click for a close-up view.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Life at KHO

I am currently spending my "days" hanging out at the KHO auroral observatory, watching the atmospheric and solar wind conditions and waiting. The PI (principal investigator) is my boss, Marc Lessard. He looks very PI-ish in this picture!

All photos today were taken by Margit Dyrland
We have been reporting to our posts at Svalbard University around 1 in the morning. The Skype chats start then and the Andøya rocket range has already been busy getting us ready for the day. At 3 am we start the drive for the top of the mountain, which I believe is called Old Coal Mine #7, and park about halfway up where we then abandon the van and hop in the beltwagon to do the final ascent. 

Geoff McHarg and Marc Lessard enjoying the ride
We normally stay at the observatory for about 6 hours, watching the solar wind satellite data and the allsky cameras, as well as the EISCAT radar data. Although most days we have had some technical issues with the rocket, the team down at Andøya has been diligent and determined to fix every little thing that comes up. If the science and weather will just cooperate, we can get this rocket off the ground soon! In the meantime, it's a waiting game.

Wish us luck for an imminent launch!

The Svalbard Team

from the left: Fred Sigernes, Dave Olson, Margit Dyrland, Dag Lorentzen,
Geoff McHarg, Allison Jaynes, Marc Lessard, Erik Lundberg
click us for a better view!