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.

A Day of Rest

December 03, 2002 17:14 (NZ)

Today was my first day off since arriving in Antarctica, and it was REALLY nice. I managed to run lots of errands, get a haircut, do laundry, etc., and most of all get caught up on sleep. After a great day yesterday, I'm sure everything is going wonderfully out at Willie Field ;-)

Telescope Assembly

December 02, 2002 13:51 (NZ)

Today we reached the milestone of attaching the cryostat to the balloon gondola. From this point on, all of our testing and work will deal with the complete system. The weather today has taken a turn for the worse, and at times the visibility has been down to 50-100 feet. Fortunately we could still make it to the galley for lunch! Hopefully the weather will clear up by tonight so that we can get home...

Deadline Approaching

November 30, 2002 21:39 (NZ)

Today at lunch we saw a satellite map of upper atmosphere wind speeds around Antarctica. It seems that the circumpolar winds are setting up early this year. They are not quite stable yet, but NSBF will most likely launch a "pathfinder" balloon in about a week. If the pathfinder stays on track for 3 days, then our launch window will officially be open. The other balloon experiment down here (ATIC) will then launch first, as soon as the surface weather is good. Approximately 3 days after that, we need to be ready to launch on the first day with good weather. So the bottom line is that 2 weeks from now we need to be ready to go. Tonight at the barn, Paolo, Silvia and Francesco are evacuating the helium gas inside the liquid helium tank. This process causes the liquid helium to evaporate and cool to 2K (from 4.2K). This temperature is then cold enough to condense the helium-3 gas inside our closed cycle refrigerator. The liquid helium-3 is then pumped on in a closed cycle fashion which cools the liquid helium-3 (and our detectors) to 0.275K. By tomorrow, everything should be cooled down and ready to mount onto the gondola. Barth, Carrie, Enzo, and John are setting up for a "dry run" of a test that we will attempt a few days from now. This test effectively involves measuring the resolution of the 8 "pixels" in our telescope. To do this, we will be looking at a thermal microwave source (a big black ball) which we will suspend beneath a 7 cubic meter, helium filled blimp. This blimp will be flown at an altitude of 1km attached to a kevlar line. We will then scan the telescope back and forth as we look at the source and track its position with our star camera. Tom, Bill and I are in town tonight working in Crary Lab (the main science building) on flight planning and other computer tasks. It looks like our tasks are becoming more focussed as we approach our flight date...

Preparations for Assembly

November 30, 2002 10:11 (NZ)

Yesterday the liquid helium in the cryostat finally ran out, and we refilled the tank. We will start the process of cooling back down to 0.3K (from 4.2K) today. After that, we have a couple simple tests to do and then we will mount the cryostat onto the gondola. The winds could set up as early as a week or so from now, so we need to be ready soon. There is another balloon payload down here that a group from Louisiana State University is working on. They will get the first launch opportunity because they want to circumnavigate the continent twice. Yesterday we finished the necessary modifications to allow us to re-cycle our helium-3 fridge inflight. This should give us another few days of data if our flight lasts longer than about 15 days (the average is about 20 days, with the shortest being our flight in 1998, which was 10.5 days).

Today is a holiday for most people at the base, but we are at work along with the guys from NSBF (National Scientific Balloon Facility). Fortunately Dave from NSBF is cooking up some hamburgers on the grill. Tonight is the official Thanksgiving dinner back at the main galley in McMurdo. When we got to work this morning, the heater in the barn was broken. So it's another cold day at work...

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 28, 2002 12:47 (NZ)

Although most of McMurdo won't be celebrating Thanksgiving until Saturday, the chef out here at Willie Field fixed us a great Turkey Dinner. The cook crew out here takes their work seriously, and the rumour has spread through town that we get fed really well out here (for example, yesterday for dessert we had creme brulee). Consequently, people who have errands to run out at Willie Field often try to be out here around lunch time. The storm that was supposed to hit today has taken a slightly different course, so it shouldn't be as severe as predicted.

Automatic Fridge

November 27, 2002 16:23 (NZ)

Yesterday evening, Paolo (Italian collaborator, Silvia's husband) arrived in McMurdo after an unsuccessful attempt the previous day. With Paolo here, we continued our discussion of whether we should have the ability to cycle our helium-3 fridge during the flight. The two limiting factors that determine how many days our detectors work are the hold time of the helium-4 tank, and the run time of the helium-3 fridge. In the past, these times were comparable. Now, our helium-4 lasts a long time, so it would be nice to have the ability to re-cycle our fridge mid-flight. We starting working on the necessary wiring changes today. Rumour has it that a storm is moving into the area tomorrow, so will have to see if the weather people are right...

Cryostat Still Cold

November 26, 2002 17:03 (NZ)

Today is the 16th day since the cryostat was last filled with liquid helium, and there is still some left! This is the longest cryogen hold time we've ever seen, and is probably due to some new infra-red blocking filters we received in August. Silvia and Francesco spent the day testing to see how the rotation of the cryostat in flight will affect the noise in the signals of our detectors. To do this we place the cryostat on a turntable, and rotate it back and forth very slowly. I saw a doppler radar map of the upper-atmosphere winds today- they are definitely not stable yet. Ideally, we need to wait until the "polar vortex winds" set up and are stable. After that we have a window of time (approximately 3 weeks) in which we can launch when we have good weather on the ground. I finally got some sleep last night, and that certainly helps my attitude and effectiveness...


November 25, 2002 20:25 (NZ)

After a grueling two days of testing and spending the night in between at the barn, I'm ready for some sleep... Intermixed with testing our detector electronics, we managed to diagnose and correct some other strange electrical issues that have been with us for some time. We have one more day/night of testing, and then we'll get a slight break while we refill the liquid helium in our cryostat. So far, the helium has lasted 15 days, which is nearly a record. Soon after refilling, we'll mount the cryostat onto the gondola, and conduct some large-scale tests on the whole system. Then we just have to wait for the circum-polar winds to start up, which usually happens around the middle of December. Of course we also need good weather on the ground so that we can launch the balloon...

Overlapping Shifts

November 24, 2002 09:11 (NZ)

Yesterday was a slow day (or so it felt). Carrie and Barth made some slight modifications to our Data Acquisition System in an effort to squelch some unwanted electrical noise. I spent most of the day working on some programming tasks, but did manage to get in a quick ski in the afternoon.

This morning things are ramping up for another day of electronics testing. John, Tom, and Bill have worked all night modifying many circuit boards, and today Francesco and I will test out their modifications. During the couple hours in the morning when our work shifts overlap, we discuss our current status and what steps need to be taken next. The issues we've been dealing with for past week are centered around finding the optimal way of tuning the electronics that read out the signals from our detectors. There are many factors that influence these decisions: noise from other circuits on the gondola, the properties of the components used in the circuit, our strategy for scanning the telescope at float altitude, how bright the atmosphere is at float, etc. Some things (like the brightness of the atmosphere in the microwave "color" ranges that we are sensitive to) are largely unknown. Another purpose of our testing is to see how big a problem it is if we tune our electronics based on a "wrong guess" of one of these factors.

Tedious Testing

November 22, 2002 22:14 (NZ)

Today Francesco and I spent the whole day testing some electrical properties of our detector system. Since there was no automated way of doing these particular tests, we spent the day reading numbers off the screen of our spectrum analyzer and recording them by hand. John, Tom, and Bill showed up this evening to relieve us and continue testing through the night. Hopefully we'll have our issues resolved in a few days, and can proceed with mounting the cryostat onto the gondola. The weather today has been overcast, but relatively warm...

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