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.


November 21, 2002 17:19 (NZ)

Today we had a test of the satellite communications that will be used during the flight to send commands to the telescope and also send back a limited amount of data. During the flight (and during the test), data is transmitted from the gondola to the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS). This is a network of 7 satellites in geosynchronous orbit. From the satellite, the data is relayed to a receiver in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The data then travels over land lines to the National Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine, Texas, where we have one of our computers set up. The data is then forwarded over the internet to Colorado, where it is sent over the internet satellite link to McMurdo, and then via several microwave communications links out to the barn at Willy Field. Out here in the barn, we compared the data we received to what we originally sent from the gondola, and everything gets through just fine. The amazing thing is that it only takes a few seconds for the information to traverse its long and winding path. Another good thing about this test is that we discovered a piece of hardware in one of our flight computers (we have two redundant computers onboard) that is in its death throws and will have to be replaced.

We continue to deal with issues surrounding the electronics that read out our detectors. John, Tom, and Bill spent all of last night working on some problems, and have temporarily moved to the "night shift" so that we can accomplish more in a shorter time. Hopefully they'll make good progress tonight, and tomorrow I'll do some tests to see if their changes help out.

Penguin, Take Two

November 20, 2002 14:50 (NZ)

Those who missed the penguin last night were overjoyed to see one today! This is probably the same penguin that we saw last night, but who knows? On a more serious side, we've been making good progress in our preparations. Some computer hardware on the gondola has been replaced, and we are converging on an understanding of some problems with our readout electronics. We have some more testing to finish in the next couple days, and then we will refill our cryostat with liquid helium and cycle our helium-3 refrigerator again.

A Penguin!

November 19, 2002 19:58 (NZ)

Today was a long day. We spent a great deal of time debugging some "spooky" electrical problems. By this evening, we are slowly reaching an understanding of what's going on. I went out for a ski this evening; the snow conditions were good, but the wind was cold. When I returned, all of us working late at the barn were treated to a surprise. An Adelie penguin (about 18" tall) wandered in to the area, and we all went out to take pictures of it. It is very unusual to see a penguin this early in the season- normally they don't show up until January. I managed to take some good pictures with my 35mm, but the digital ones didn't turn out as well. Big thanks go to Francesco, who let me post many of his penguin pictures below. It was great to see a penguin in the wild.

Gondola Tests

November 18, 2002 13:40 (NZ)

Last night, Barth, Carrie, and Enzo stayed up all night and aligned the many positional sensors on the gondola (GPS, sun sensor, star camera, etc). The star camera was able to find and track two stars (Sirius and Canopus) right away! This is great, because we weren't sure if it would be possible to find stars during the day with our camera. There are some electrical issues to work out with some of the flight control electronics, but these problems can be worked on in the barn, so we don't require good weather to fix them. Today we have the gondola (and thus the data acquisition system) back inside, and we are re-doing some of our detector testing.

Pictures From the Pole

November 17, 2002 15:24 (NZ)

John just returned from a 10 day trip to the South Pole, where he is a collaborator on another experiment. He let me post some of his pictures in order to give everyone a taste of what it's like down there. To get to the pole, passengers board ski-equipped C-130's in McMurdo and journey south for 3 hours. The pole is situated on a high plateau, so there are not many features to the landscape. See the pics below...

Gondola Outside

November 17, 2002 14:34 (NZ)

Today we rolled the gondola outside in order to calibrate and align some of the sensors. Barth, Carrie, Enzo and Tom have working on that for much of the day. Today was a perfect day for these tests, and the timing was good as well! The rest of us have been analyzing test data and making ourselves useful around the barn. While we were taking the gondola outside, a skua (sea bird) flew in to check us out. Since it is Sunday, no official lunch is served out at Willy Field. Instead, the site manager for N.S.B.F (National Scientific Balloon Facility) got out the charcoal grill and bar-b-qued steaks for everyone.

Warm Weather

November 16, 2002 19:43 (NZ)

Today is the warmest day we've had yet! There was no wind, and the sun was even melting some ice out in front of the barn. I took a break this evening to ski a little ways down the Willy Field road, and the conditions were beautiful...

Problem Solved

November 16, 2002 13:11 (NZ)

Silvia and Francesco re-cycled the helium-3 fridge last night, so this morning our detectors are cooled back down to 0.275K. This is great because it means nothing is broken inside :-)

This morning we managed to find our problem: a grounding wire on the power cabe running from the gondola to the cryostat was snapped off at the connector, but still making sporadic contact. So sometimes everything would be fine, and other times some of our electronics had no ground reference... Things are repaired now, and the detector testing is back underway.

Small Setbacks

November 15, 2002 17:13 (NZ)

Today we had our first bit of experimental "badness" so far in Antarctica. Because of an electrical grounding problem (we think), we used up all the cooling power of our helium-3 refrigerator in a matter of hours (normally it lasts a couple weeks). It's not a major setback, only about a day of lost testing time, but it reminds us that extra care is needed when dealing with such a huge system... In a strange way it's very relieving to have something go wrong. It was starting to get very unnerving that everything was working.

Another Late Night

November 14, 2002 21:26 (NZ)

It has been another productive day of testing our detectors, and we need only a few more days to finish the tests involving the only the cryostat and detectors. After that, we will mount the cryostat into the balloon gondola and test the system as a whole. Tonight I'm working late and spending the night out at the barn. I'm finishing up some tests using our "Fourier Transform Spectrometer", which is basically a device used to determine what microwave "colors" our detectors are sensitive to. This test is a good way to check if the filters we have put in front of our detectors are ok.

The weather has improved somewhat from yesterday. Even though it is late, I can hear the bulldozers outside the barn, keeping the area around Willy Field in a driveable condition. Teams of dozers work 24/7 moving snow and keeping Willy Field and the road across the ice shelf open to traffic. The next day that we have good weather, we can hopefully get the gondola outside to calibrate some of our sensors.

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