Ted's Boomerang 2002 Antarctic Web Log

Frequently Asked Questions

Current Mission Status: We Have Landed!

  • View all of the tracks of balloons launched so far this season at the N.S.B.F. website here. This is real-time data from the onboard GPS receivers.
  • If you have a computer that can view proprietary Micro$oft Windoze media formats (I don't), you can view a webcam broadcast of Willie Field here.
  • Here is some Antarctic news and weather from our newspaper, the Antarctic Sun.

Check-out Cancelled

December 15, 2002 17:03 (NZ)

The weather today was windy and overcast, so we were forced to cancel our "compatibility test" (final pre-launch check out). This test involves hanging the telescope from the launch vehicle and checking that all our systems, including satellite communications, work as they should. Over the past two days we have finished all the major exterior work on the gondola. The sun shielding and solar panels are in place. Tonight we will do some final electrical checks, and then simply wait for good weather. I've been spending most of my time working on the "schedule file" for the flight. This file will be used to tell the onboard computer where to point the telescope and when. This is somewhat complicated to create, since the telescope is scanning back and forth, the sky is rotating, and we want to observe only a small patch of the sky.

Around the Clock

December 14, 2002 12:48 (NZ)

The whole team has been working in shifts non-stop in order to get the telescope ready for our final check-out (a.k.a. "compatibility test") tomorrow morning. The electronics have been greatly improved by replacing some circuit components, and are now in flight configuration. The panelling will continue for the rest of the day, followed by a brief noise test tonight. Early tomorrow we will mount the solar panels and shift the power of the telescope over to the solar panels and batteries that will be used during flight. Our hope is to launch this week on Wednesday or Thursday. The main McMurdo airport is moving from the sea ice out to Willy Field from Friday through Sunday, and we cannot launch during this time.

Pathfinder Launched

December 12, 2002 13:53 (NZ)

Today the satellite images gave good indications that the upper level winds have set up. The NSBF folks launched a "pathfinder" balloon that will rise to our flight altitude and trace out the potential path of our telescope. If this path is good, then the first science payload could be launched as early as Monday. The other science group down here (The A.T.I.C. experiment from the University of Louisiana) will launch first. Two days later, if the weather holds, we will launch. So we could potentially get a launch opportunity as early as 6 days from now (although with the weather down here, it will probably be later than that). This news took the team a little by surprise, so we've begun the frantic process of finishing the final assembly of the telescope.

Castle Rock

December 11, 2002 15:48 (NZ)

This morning a group of us hiked to Castle Rock. This rock outcropping is located along the ridge of the narrow peninsula connecting McMurdo and Mount Erebus (McMurdo is at the Southwest tip of the peninsula, and Erebus is at the base). The trail runs along the peninsula out to Castle Rock, and then descends to the ice shelf and returns along the Willy Field road. The loop is around 7 miles (I think). It was not very cold today, but along the ridge of the peninsula the wind was around 20 knots, so the wind chill was cold. The trail out to the rock is fairly leisurely, and then there are several hundred feet of scrambling to get to the top. This afternoon it's back to work, but it sure is easier to concentrate after getting out a bit.

The Tests Go On

December 10, 2002 16:28 (NZ)

Since the winds have not set up yet and we won't be launching for at least another week or so, we are making good use of our time to conduct more in-depth tests of how well our detectors can distinguish different polarizations of light. In parallel with this, we are analyzing the data and still planning our observing strategy for the flight. Tomorrow morning a group of us is going to take th morning off and go hike to Castle Rock! Castle Rock is a large volcanic outcropping about 4 miles from McMurdo. Hopefully the weather will cooperate with our plans. I'm certainly glad to have a mostly functional camera lense again...

Camera Repair

December 09, 2002 09:44 (NZ)

Yesterday was spent doing more optical tests and analyzing data from previous ones. We are nearing the completion of our optical testing (probably today). After that, the next step is to cover the gondola with panels to protect it from the intense sunlight at 120,000 feet. We also have some electrical issues that everyone is concerned about.

Another problem that I had yesterday was that the main lense for my 35mm SLR died. The autofocus didn't work, and I could hear something "rattling" around inside the lense. Having nothing to lose (the lense is 6 years old and definitely out of warranty), I took it apart to see if I could fix it. Modern zoom lenses are complicated! In the end I found that a piece of brass that was supposed to move one of the lenses back and forth to focus had slipped, and the focusing lense had slid out of it's track (and was rattling around). The lense that slipped off had bent some of the fine electrical brushes used by the autofocus electronics to determine the lense position. I managed to get the lense back into its track, but the autofocus system is toast. Still, having to manually focus is a small price to pay to get a working lense- it would have been challenging to only use my telephoto lense for the rest of the trip...

Cold Night in the Barn

December 08, 2002 00:27 (NZ)

After another day of analysis, we flew the blimp again tonight to do some more beam maps. The down side of this test is that we have to leave the main barn door open (so the telescope can see the source hanging from the blimp), which makes it quite cold inside... I've gotten very good at typing while wearing glove liners :-) Hopefully this will be the last time we need to do this particular test- but I've said that before...


December 07, 2002 08:35 (NZ)

Many people on the team have been working yesterday and last night on analyzing the data from the beam maps we made a day ago. Today is more of the same, and we are also considering repeating some of our tests to make sure that we understand what's going on. Our plan is still to be launch-ready in a week. The last wind speed map I saw showed that the circumpolar winds were still not set up yet, so it's anyone's guess as to when we will actually launch.

Beam Maps

December 05, 2002 23:54 (NZ)

Today has been a busy day! Andrew, Eric, and Phil arrived on a flight from Christchurch this afternoon. Today's weather was spectacular, and it came at just the right moment. This evening we launched a small blimp into the Antarctic skies. Dangling below this blimp was a small foam ball that served as a source of microwaves. Actually all things that have some temperature above absolute zero will emit some microwaves. The hotter the object, the more intense the microwaves they emit. We raised our blimp to an altitude of about one kilometer, and then scanned our telescope back and forth to look at the foam ball. By doing this, we can measure the shape of the "beam" of each pixel. You can think of the beam this way: if you point your pixel at a spot on the sky, you are sensitive to the light coming from that direction, but you're also slightly sensitive to light coming from nearby regions of the sky. The "beam" of a pixel is a way of quantifying this.

Preliminary results from the beam mapping tests look very promising, and a staff of about 6 or 7 people will continue to work through the night on mapping out the beams of each pixel. This is (hopefully) the last outdoor test we'll need to do before we fly, so if we can finish it tonight it minimizes the number of future days that we may be held up by bad weather.

Beautiful Day

December 05, 2002 08:39 (NZ)

Today dawned bright and clear. The overcast and windy days of the past week have given way to blue skies and a warm wind blowing over the ice. The past couple of days have seen extensive testing of the telescopes optics using a device that Paolo built. One thing we've discovered is that the telescope is slightly out of focus. In order to correct this, we must raise (or lower) the cryostat slightly on its mounting bolts, which will move it further (or closer) to the primary mirror. Hopefully the weather will hold up today, and we'll be able to do our outdoor tests tonight. I've spent the past few days working very hard on creating and evaluating several "schedule files", which will be used to control when and where our telescope points once it gets to its cruising altitude of 120,000 feet.

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