A Short Diversion in Kiruna

Seeing as how launching this balloon is now old hat, we thought to ourselves "Well, we can't do that again... I mean where's the challenge?" "Aha!" we countered, "what if we do again, but this time we do it in Swedish!"

And what a better time to do it again, in Swedish, but during a short diversion in Kiruna, Sweden?

[ bottom | newest first | panoramas | See also: Gaelen's log ]

Thu 2005-04-21 12:20:24 UTC
Outside Paddington Station. Deplaning in Kiruna.
Monday evening and Tuesday: Barth and I left Toronto in the early evening, bound for London on an Airbus A340. The plane was full and the trip was uneventful. We arrived at Heathrow shortly after six in the morning and got through passport control and to the departures lounge in Terminal 3 by seven. As far as I can tell, what happened when they made the departures lounge of Terminal 3 is they built a shopping mall, and then sort of stuck an airport in the left-over spaces. Unfortunately our flight to Stockholm didn't leave until after one. I thought I might go into town for a few hours, just to kill some time. Barth reluctantly decided to stay in at the airport and work on his proposal.

Getting out of the airport required me to go the wrong way through one passport control (for connecting travelers) and then back into another passport control, this one for people entering the UK. This required another wait in the queue, and it was just after 8:30 when I got to the Heathrow train station, and I made it to Paddington Station around nine. I had a bite to eat and then went on Don's Extremely Short Tour of Downtown London:

At this point it was time to return to the airport. So I turned around and made it back to Paddington Station just in time to catch the 11:00 train back to the airport. I reunited with Barth in the departures lounge and we eventually got on our MD-80 aka. DC-9 to Stockholm. This plane was full too. I had the window seat in row 31, which put the cowl of one of the engines directly beside me. Barth sat directly behind me, which gave him an even worse view from his window.

We landed at Arlanda airport in Stockholm just after five, and found ourselves with another three hours to wait before the final leg of our journey. Here we had to go through passport control again, and then collect our checked luggage for the trip past (not through) customs. After changing terminals we re-checked our luggage and then wondered about something to eat. I went to a bank machine and withdrew a random amount of money, having not bothered to check the exchange rate beforehand. We got something to eat and then settled in for our wait, while keeping an eye out for Gaelen, who was supposed to be on our flight.

We boarded the flight shortly before nine at night, at which point we had spent more time since taking off from Toronto waiting for flights than actually flying. We were both fortunate to be seated in the front of the plane, another MD-80, again full. (SAS seems to own about a million of them.) Gaelen rushed onto the plane just as they finished boarding—obviously he had had shorter layovers than us.

The flight out of Stockholm stopped first in Umeå where about half of the passengers got off. The rest of us continued on to Kiruna where we arrived sometime after 11 at night. It was mostly dark, except for the northern horizon, where it was dawn or dusk, depending on your point of view. Marco was waiting for us at the airport and he drove us to Esrange, where the three of us had a bit of lunch and then headed gratefully to bed.

Thu 2005-04-21 12:20:24 UTC
Canadian BLASTers pose with the Canadian Ambassador to Sweden.
Wednesday In the morning 130 or so ambassadors to Sweden came through on a tour of the base. Barth gave a short speech to them and then the Canadians here got the chance to meet the Canadian ambassador to Sweden.

Enzo and Greg inspected the ACS and, once it was back together, put it on the gondola. We then were able to power up the flight computers. I spent most of the rest of the day getting our support computers up and running and getting the telemetry running. This meant setting up the bit sync, Arwen our line-of-sight groundstation computer, and the SIP simulator. In the course of this I discovered a bad card in arwen that required Enzo's expertise in soldering. This in turn meant setting up the soldering station, which required getting one of the variacs working to convert from European 220 to North American 115 volt power. After soldering the card, however, we found it was still bad. Fortunately we had a spare and that worked. Mark, Jeff, Marie and Matt arrived in the afternoon with the last bolometer array. They got right down to the business of installing it.

Fri 2005-04-22 14:07:25 UTC
Jaspaul, Gaelen and Greg assembling the sun shields. American muffins.
Thursday: Barth, Enzo and I spent some time working on the tilt sensors, in an attempt to use them to level the outer frame in preparation for the gyroscope tests that Enzo needed to do. During this we discovered that one of our tilt sensors was dead. Not a big problem, since there's another one that measures the same thing and it's not actively used during flight for pointing. Nevertheless we looked into getting another shipped out here. We also discovered some noise in the tilt sensors that seemed to be RF pickup on the power lines, and we took some steps to reduce it, which meant we had to disassemble the ACS again. Gaelen and company started assembling the sun shield frames, and then looked at what had to be done to repair or replace the Mylar-and-foam sun-shield panels. Marie took apart the star cameras and inspected them. Enzo and Marco graciously agreed to cook dinner for us all.

Sat 2005-04-23 13:04:35 UTC
The McMaster-Carr catalogue has a thousand uses. Mark and Matt pose in front of Hotel Dagobert, our home on the base. Mounting the secondary.
Friday: Enzo did his gyro rotation tests today. Barth took apart the Charge Controllers and replaced some resistors to give us better control over charging the batteries during flight. In the early afternoon Mark and one of the MASER 10 guys exchanged talks. MASER is a scientific rocket which will be launched from Esrange at the end of May. The cryostat was closed up and pumped down, which involved popping two windows. The third one held, however. We mounted the mirror after this and then had to knock off for the party that they had been preparing outside. Later the cryostat was cooled down. In the late evening I partially took apart the ACS to tighten some screws that had gotten loose.

Sun 2005-04-24 08:55:26 UTC
A view of the highbay from above the second-floor offices. A view of the three balloon integration buildings: Chapel, Cathedral and Basilica. Emptying the cryostat of nitrogen. Marie and Matt.
Saturday: The cryostat was mounted today and many of us spent the day working on aligning it. Barth and Enzo debugged a problem with the watchdog on the ADC cards. I spent a bit of time with Marie checking that the star cameras still worked with the rest of the gondola. In the evening the cryostat was removed and emptied and then we went to the main building to play pool and table tennis.

Mon 2005-04-25 13:48:19 UTC
Mounting the cameras. Reindeer on the road to Kiruna. BLAST looking out the door at the hill.
Sunday: The star cameras and the baffle were mounted today. The cryostat was warmed up. For lunch, Marie, Matt and I went into town. On the way there, we encountered a herd of reindeer on the road. They had a propensity to run down the middle of the road when encountering a car, instead of, say getting off the road. It being Sunday, about a third of the restaurants were open. We had lunch in a small cafe in central Kiruna. Marie randomly ordered a quiche, Matt and I had large-aspect-ratio sandwiches. Marie also managed to find a candy store. In the evening we tried to find the offset of the star cameras to the primary beam. We did this by placing a laser on the back of the secondary and then pointing the telescope towards a building on a hill on the other side of the pad. Mark and Jeff went over to the hill and then shone a light back at us where the laser shone.

Tue 2005-04-26 17:56:23 UTC
Reattaching the radiation shields. The cryostat pumping down for the last time before flight. BLAST in the dark.  The bright star-like object is Jupiter.
Monday: The cryostat was closed up and pumped down for the last time before flight. In the evening we did star camera tests.

Gaelen has put up a photo log of his own at http://www.physics.ubc.ca/~gmarsden/kiruna_2005/, which everyone should check out.

Wed 2005-04-27 20:33:57 UTC
Testing the sun sensor. Marie shows off her new line of biscuits. Mark shows off his grill packing skills.
Tuesday: The sun sensor was calibrated in the morning. Jaspaul, Gaelen, Marie, Matt and I went into town for lunch. It was also time to stock up on more groceries, so we did that. The GPS antennas were attached to the sun shields. In the evening we had a barbecue using a gas grill which Esrange provided for us.

Fri 2005-04-29 13:07:46 UTC
The top of the sun shields painted. One of the ADC cards.  This one happens to be the cryo control card.
Wednesday: The top of the sun shields were painted in the morning, which meant removing the GPS antennas first. Ed arrived today from his travels in Italy. Replacement resistors arrived which allowed Enzo and Barth an opportunity to finally fix the problems with the hardware watchdog on the ADC cards.

Fri 2005-04-29 15:38:44 UTC
Chris and Nathan, the LDB guys, check out the SIP. Marie inspects the ration of Tasty Cakes shipped to her by Adam, part of their year's supply. Mark warms up the helium transfer line. A picture of snow and trees.  This is the view from the north facing windows of Hotel Dagobert.  (The south facing windows overlook the parking lot.)And, I know it's irregular, but here's a submission from Jaspaul:Jeff tries to impersonate the Spirit of Ecstasy (the Rolls Royce hood ornament).
Thursday: The NSBF guys arrived today. Chris and Nathan, who are responsible for the SIP and the ground station equipment, set up and got to work on getting the electronics ready for the flight. Marie took off and opened up one of the Star Cameras to fix the focus positioning. In the afternoon we discovered a cold-only leak in cryostat. Eventually we resigned ourselves to warming up in an attempt to figure out where it is and fix it. The leak only shows up at Liquid Helium temperature, which makes debugging the problem very difficult. So, Matt found the dewar warmer and the slow process of warming up began.

Sat 2005-04-30 20:56:58 UTC
Chris documents his trip. Mark was right.  Matt was wrong. Almost open: only one more radiation shield left. Barth's birthday!
Friday: The cryostat was opened up, the indium seal on the base of the helium tank tightened down, and then the cryostat closed up again. This took most of the day for those of us on cryo duty. It was Barth's birthday today. He, Greg, Marco and Jaspaul took the day off and drove to the Norwegian coast, about four hours west of here to take in the fjords. They returned just before dinner. Ed and Enzo made a stew from some reindeer meat we had purchased in town. A hot countdown test is scheduled for tomorrow for the Maser 10 rocket, and the launch is Sunday morning.

Sun 2005-05-01 06:23:44 UTC
Warming up the cryostat, again. A crowd gathers to welcome David to Esrange. Enzo takes care of some marinated reindeer. The fire going well.
It's currently Sunday morning, we're waiting for word on the MASER 10 launch, which is holding at T minus 45 minutes due to high ground winds.

The announcements and warning horns that accompanied the hot countdown test entertained us all Saturday morning. The tightening that was done on the indium seal Friday proved to be insufficient to stop the leak, so Saturday was spent warming up and opening the cryostat again in order to replace the indium seal this time. David Hughes arrived from Mexico in the early afternoon. Gaelen and Marco attached the mylarised foam panels to the sun shields in order to assess the panels that had to be remade. Thomas came by and told us the launch countdown would begin at 2:30 tomorrow morning, which would put launch around 7 am. From T minus 30 minutes until after launch we are not allowed in the highbay or outside near it. Our options are either to stay inside the hotel or else go out to the Radar Hill where we can watch the launch.

For dinner, Enzo and Matt grilled some reindeer which had been marinating all day. The result was tasty, but not as successful as Friday's stew: reindeer is difficult to barbecue. On our way back from dinner we happened across the Swedish contingent deputed to light the Walpurgis night fire, which we hung around to see the start of.

Having to be up on the Radar Hill at least half an hour before launch, we agreed to meet in the kitchen at ten after six this morning, which, surprisingly, everyone managed to do. Having the count-down start at 2:30 meant loud P.A. announcements all night. The first announcement, right at 2:30 informed us that launch would be delayed an hour. This morning, shortly after we all met in the kitchen, launch control announced that the countdown would be holding at T minus 45 minutes due to winds. And not much has happened in the following two hours... According to the MASER 10 site, the latest they can launch is 11 am, four hours after the scheduled launch. That gives us a little bit more than an hour until we discover if they scrub or not.

Sun 2005-05-01 08:08:27 UTC
The BLAST Kiruna 2005 team on the top of Radar Hill.  From left: David Hughes (INAOE),  Gaelen Marsden (UBC), Greg Tucker, (Brown), Enzo Pascale (Toronto), Catia Moscano (Toronto), Mark Devlin (UPenn), Barth Netterfield (Toronto), Don Wiebe (Toronto), Matt Truch (Brown), Marco Viero (Toronto), Jaspaul Chung (Toronto/UBC), Jeff Klein (UPenn), Chris Field (NSBF), Marie Rex (UPenn), Nathan Wise (NSBF).  Not present: Ed Chapin (UPenn). The view of the balloon area left and the rocket launch pad to the right and behind.  As far as we can tell, the Radar Hill was expressly placed where it was to afford a good view for both rocket and balloon launches.
It's now about 10 am on Sunday. The rocket launch has just recently been scrubbed.

Around five after nine we had the ten minute warning of the resumption of countdown. We loaded up in the cars and headed back to Dagobert to collect the remainder of the contingent. Chris and Nathan joined us, which gave us three cars, enough to transport everyone. We took the road up to the Radar Hill, where a bunch of other spectators had gathered. As soon we got there, we realised we had left Ed behind. Marco and Marie headed back down to see if they could find him. The countdown continued until T minus 25 minutes, when it was paused again. We milled about a bit, taking a few pictures and looking at the radar building. Eventually the launch was called off completely. Ed showed up then, getting a ride up with our Esrange publicist. We all turned around and went back to work. Another four and a half hour countdown been scheduled to start tomorrow at 2 a.m.

Sun 2005-05-01 19:52:03 UTC
One of these things doesn't belong. An edge-on view of the mirror.  The shiny part on top right is the scoop.  To the bottom left is one of the aluminum box beams which make up the inner frame.  Along this runs a copper pipe that's used for the fluid balance system.  The curved part between these is the back surface of the mirror.  From this, a couple of struts extend to the triangular mounting plate which secures the mirror to the inner frame. Mark and Jeff leak check the leak checker?
Sunday evening.

Most of us have already left and turned in for the night, since we have to meet tomorrow at 5:40 to go out to watch the launch. The good news for the weekend is that the indium seal that Mark and Jeff fixed on Saturday seems to have fixed the leak. The cryostat was cooled down today. Barth and I worked on getting the pressure sensor in the pressure vessel calibrated, in preparation for closing up the PV. Enzo finally managed to get the TDRSS ground station software working. Barth also fixed a few other pointing bugs.

Tue 2005-05-03 16:27:31 UTC
Exhaust plume. Welcome to the MASER 10 Party. Still snowing. Hercules back from its test drive.
It's Tuesday afternoon. It's been snowing for about 24 hours now.

The MASER 10 launch happened Monday morning around 7. It was the last Skylark sounding rocket in existence, so the launch was the end of an era. I have a launch video for the interested. Both Gaelen and Jaspaul managed to get some good photographs. Unlike our missions, the Maser 10 mission seemed to be over almost as soon as it launched: they were already doing recovery of the payload by the time we got back to the Cathedral from Radar Hill and down to work. As the day progressed we learned of some bad news from the Maser team: the drogue chute had opened, but the main chute had not. So, the payload was now a pancake somewhere north of us. Three of the five experiments got all their data during the flight, but the two biological experiments on the rocket require the recovery of their samples. Nevertheless, after finding and recovering the payload, it looked like these experiments may be able to salvage their data as well.

Monday afternoon it started snowing and we had an integration planning meeting to identify issues that needed to be addressed before launch. In the evening we attended the Maser 10 post-flight party. There were several speeches made, including one by Hugh Whitfield, who co-ordinated the Skylark integration. The party ended rather late and I got to bed sometime after four.

This morning guys from Esragne brought by and assembled the launch vehicle, which they have named Hercules. It was assembled and then taken out for a test drive. It's large and yellow. I spent some time working on some of the flight software improvements which were identified at the meeting. Gaelen, Matt, Marco and Marie continued to mylarise the sun shields and attached the panels to the sun shield frame.

Wed 2005-05-04 21:05:12 UTC
Ed and David work on flight scheduling. Gaelen and Matt tie down the sun shield panels. Testing the launch vehicle. Radar hill still enshrouded in fog.
Wednesday evening. It's snowing again, after being rainy and foggy all day.

Gaelen and numerous deputies spent Tuesday evening attaching panels to the sun shield frame. All that was left was for Chris to attach the TDRSS antenna before we stood it up, something that he did Wednesday morning. Those of us inclined to eat meat had a feast Tuesday evening. Enzo prepared a reindeer rump roast and Jaspaul made a pile of tandoori chicken. It was all excellent.

This morning the SIP was installed on the gondola, but we weren't able to get switched over to it from the SIP Simulator before the LDB guys finished for the day. Marco and Marie spent most of the day filling in the gap between the mirror and the scoop with mylarised foam and conductive tape to make an RF seal. A couple of helium transfered occurred throughout the day as the cryostat continued to cool. Enzo and I measured some receiver transfer functions before lunch. The riggers spent some time getting familiar with the new launch vehicle.

Essentially all of the MASER 10 people have left now, and so we're the only scientific group here now. We learned that Dagobert, our home here at Esrange had been sold out from under us. In about a week and a half we have to move into Hotel Dilbert, the new and incomplete hotel as the old dorms, Hotels Albert, Herbert and Dagobert, are being retired.

We're slowly getting into flight configuration. Right now, Matt's remaking the Magnetometer cable (the old one is too short), Enzo is securing the ACS to the gondola and Marco and Marie are covering the new mirror cover (aka the Millennium Falcon) with tissue in preparation for installation on the mirror. Having no more flight code to write, Barth's abandoned flight code corner for his office.

Fri 2005-05-06 21:28:29 UTC
A bird's eye view of Enzo securing the ACS to the gondola. We can't even make out the trees on the other side of the pad now due to fog and snow. US, Canadian, Mexican and Italian flags flying at Esrange for the BLAST collaboration. 175 mm. BLAST with sun shields attached.
It's Friday night. It's been a rather busy day. I've been trying to get this article written all day with little success. It finally stopped snowing late this afternoon after two days of incessant snow. This morning I went out to the pad and took some measurements of the accumulated snow since Monday afternoon. The result: 175 mm or about 7 inches.

We discovered yesterday that the heater on the heatswitch inside the cryostat has stopped working, which meant we couldn't turn it on. This, in turn meant we couldn't quickly cool down. The heatswitch does for heat what an electrical switch does for electricity: when the heatswitch is "on", the two things that the heatswitch connects are in thermal contact, so they can transfer heat between themselves. When the heatswitch is "off", the two things are thermally isolated. The heatswitch is turned "on" by heating it up and turned "off" by letting it cool down. So, normally the heatswitch is turned "on" by heating it when we're cooling the cryostat so that something that's cold (in this case the liquid helium tank) can easily cools something that is warm (the He4 pot). However, because the heatswitch heater is broken, the heatswitch is stuck in the "off" position, which means, even though the liquid helium tank is really cold, the He4 pot can only cool very slowly. The day was spent by Mark and Jeff trying to coax these warm parts of the cryostat to cool down more quickly.

Today, the heatswitch started working again, indicating some flaky electrical connection between the heatswitch heater and the outside world. Later today, after getting things cooler, but not nearly as cool as we wanted them to be, the decision was made to heat up the cryostat and try to figure out what caused the heater to stop working. So the cryogens have been blown off and things are starting to warm up.

Gaelen and Marco spent most of yesterday ripping off the old tape, fixing up the Mylar and otherwise repairing and refitting the last of the sun shield panels yesterday. Today the main part of the sun shield was finally mounted on the gondola, complete except for a few of the panels which remained off to give us easier access to the gondola. Since then, Gaelen has been working on the gondola thermometry and Marco has been designing inserts to fill the holes that were made in the mirror for the old secondary mount.

Yesterday we switched over from using the SIP Simulator to using the SIP itself. This means all of the commands we send up to the gondola, as well as our TDRSS telemetry is now in flight configuration and being transmitted through the air, rather than over cables which we had strung to the gondola. Today Marie and I worked with the Chris for a while to get the science stack working. The science stack is a special bit of electronics provided to us by NSBF. We need it to turn on and off all of our various electronics components. Naturally, when all our stuff is off, we can't use our normal commanding (via the SIP) to send and commands since there's nothing on the gondola that can receive them (the computers being off). So, the science stack is essentially what we use to "bootstrap" BLAST into operation.

More NSBFers have been arriving in the past few days. Among them are the electronics guys. They have given Marie the video and data transmitters, and she has mounted them on the gondola. We'll try them tomorrow to see if they work.

The pressure vessel was also closed up to day finally and leak checked. After that we tried a few simplistic scan tests to see how much of BLAST we had inadvertently broken while fixing everything else. The answer: not much.

Sat 2005-05-07 23:42:22 UTC
BLAST sticking out the door to get the TDRSS antenna in a position to see the Satellite.  The TDRSS antenna is the greenish cylinder on top of the gondola. Helium plume.  The whiter part near the bottom is a flame of liquid helium. A close up of the nitrogen jet. A close up of the Smorgastorte.  It appears to be some sort of cake with eggs, lemon, shrimp and vegetables on top.  We didn't buy any.
Saturday night. It finally stopped snowing, and the fog has lifted. We still haven't seen any sky, though, since Monday. Barth, Matt and I went in to town today for groceries. We were also trying to find a few computer parts, but the computer store closed before we were able to, so we'll have to go back Monday.

Enzo spent most of the day working with the NSBF guys to try and debug our TDRSS problems. They made a little progress, but there's still more work to do. I kibitzed a bit. The cryostat was warmed up. After dinner, Gaelen, Ed, Barth, Marco and I went to the lounge and played a few games of pool, while the rest of the team returned to the highbay, opened the cryostat, fixed the heatswitch heater, and closed the cryostat back up again. It now has to be pumped down again in order to be ready to cool down again.

Gaelen, Ed, Marco, Marie, Matt and I have made plans to take tomorrow off and go traveling a bit.

Sun 2005-05-08 22:55:06 UTC

Well, we drove to Narvik and into Vesterålen a bit today. I have some pictures and some more to say, but I think that'll have to wait for tomorrow when I'm more awake.

Mon 2005-05-09 15:46:18 UTC
Norge. The Norwegian plateau near the Swedish border. Narvik. Back on the bridge over Ofotsfjord, heading north this time. Ofotsfjord again.
Sunday: We got on the road shortly after nine. As there were six of us, we were obligated to take two cars. We divided alphabetically by last name, so Gaelen, Ed and Marie went in the Opal, while Marco, Matt and I were in the Volvo. We took along the BLAST radios, which let us communicate between the two cars. Our first destination was Abisko National Park, an hour or so west of Kiruna. Just before eleven, we arrived at the village of Abisko, on the west edge of the park and stopped for a rest. Brian, Chris and Nathan arrived not much later: we had unexpectedly passed them a short while before reaching Abisko where they had stopped on the road to take some pictures of Lake Torneträsk. We talked with them for a few minutes in the parking lot and then they headed off for Narvik. We hung around the village for a short while to wait for the convenience store to open at 11. We also decided to skip the park, since it was still too cold to spent all day outside. Instead we decided to head out to the fjords.

As is normal in Europe, the border crossing was trivial, and flagged by only a few signposts and a customs building. More dramatic was the difference between the plateau on which Kiruna is and the fjords on the west coast of Norway. As we descended from the pass, not only was the snow gone and the temperature seven degrees higher, but there were more trees, some of which were already budding. We headed first to the town of Narvik, where we had some lunch and also accidentally met up with the NSBF guys again. We walked around Narvik for a bit but, it being Sunday, there wasn't much to do. After eating we decided to head out north and west along the fjord for a while to see some more scenery.

The road we decided on was the E10, which runs from the Gulf of Bothnia in Sweden, through Kiruna, and eventually to the Norwegian town of Å on the western tip of Lofoten Island in the Norwegian Sea. From Narvik, we headed west along the north shore of Ofotsfjord, which is the fjord which Narvik is on. Ofotsfjord is a sub-fjord (if you will) of the great Vestfjord of northern Norway. We crossed a bridge to one of the islands of Vesterålen. After driving a bit further we decided to stop, lest we return home too late, along the shore of the Vestfjord. The place where we pulled off the road happened to have a small spit of land sticking out into the fjord, connected to the mainland by an isthmus that would be underwater at high tide. Since the tide was then low, and still going out, we had no trouble getting to the end of the spit, taking some pictures, picking up some shells and returning to the cars. After a sandwich break, we hopped back in the cars. This time we organised ourselves alphabetically by first name, which put Matt, Marco and Marie in the Opal (the "M" car) and Galen, Ed and I in the Volvo (the alphabet soup car?). We got back to Esrange around nine at night, after stopping a few more times to take some more photographs. All in all, it was an enjoyable time, although it was kind of tiring.

Wed 2005-05-11 00:30:34 UTC
Jeff fixes a funnel. BLAST.  Marie shown for size. Hercules from the front. The rocket range.  To give you an idea of how light it is at night, this picture was taken about an hour before midnight.
Technically, it's very early on Wednesday morning. After snowing some more on Monday, Tuesday saw a dramatic shift in the weather: warm and clear, resulting in something akin to spring runoff here at Esrange.

Monday was Marco's last day here at Esrange, he headed off early Tuesday morning for Helsinki. Monday was other than that a slow day. The cryostat was in the middle of the cool-down process, which meant little action in cryo corner other than the occasional nitrogen fill. In flight code corner, Enzo continued to flail away at the TDRSS problems. Along with the LDB guys, we seem to have come to the conclusion that the problem is on NSBF's end and not ours, which allows us to direct some of our attention elsewhere as we wait for them to work things out, but it also is frustrating not to be able to really do much to go forward with the issue ourselves.

In the past few days we have also been whacking away at a few remaining bugs in the flight code. As part of this, Barth and Enzo have installed what is hopefully the final version of the firmware in the ACS and the DAS. Gaelen has, I hope, finally finished with the sun shield panel repairs, and he's been working on gondola thermometry. Marie has been filling various things with Dynalene.

Today we tried a few scan tests in the evening with mediocre results: it's really too bright now to be able to see anything with the star cameras, even at the darkest time of the day, just after midnight. Eric Klein, our liaison from NSBF, arrived today.

Fri 2005-05-13 00:08:48 UTC
Coming back inside. Walking back down the hill.  In the distance, to the northwest you can see some more snow.  It didn't reach us however, which was nice. Marie models the other star camera hat.
It's Thursday night, and it's started snowing and sleeting again, after a day or two of really nice weather. It was sunny enough on Wednesday for us to go outside to calibrate the Sun Sensor. We also took this time to calibrate the GPS antennas, which basically means we got the GPS array to figure out the relative orientation of the four antennas, something that is needed for it to give us accurate attitude readings. We were out on the pad for most of the day. After coming back in, all of BLAST except for Enzo and his wife walked up Radar Hill and back down to get a bit of exercise.

Today Matt, Gaelen and I went into town for lunch and to shop for groceries, as our strategic food supplies had become so dangerously low that it was uncertain if we would be able to scrape together enough for lunch. We went to a cafe in the centre of Kiruna which we enjoy called Safari. After lunch it was down to the business of shopping, which ended up involving two grocery stores and a liquor store. Marie had originally planned to go with us, but decided in the end to stay at Esrange to help Mark and Jeff do bandpass tests on the cryostat. In the evening Matt and I futzed around a bit with the Sun Sensor.

Fri 2005-05-13 23:59:54 UTC
The model rocket near Hotel Dilbert. Mark comes outside looking for a little ice.
It's about half an hour before dawn on Saturday morning, which also means it's about three and a half hours after sunset. At the "darkest" time of the night we can make out Jupiter and sometimes Arcturus in the sky. Other than that, it's as blue as day. There was a small amount of rain and hail in the afternoon, but otherwise it was pleasant, if a bit cool. Barth took the day off.

We rolled part of the way out of the door again today and did more TDRSS and iridium tests. The TDRSS downlink seems to work as designed which is good news. We also tested the Iridum uplink and downlink. We didn't get a chance to test the TDRSS uplink, though, because we had to roll in due to rain and a bit of hail before getting the chance. In the evening we tried to align the star cameras to the sun sensor but ran out of time as Jupiter sank too low on the horizon.

Sun 2005-05-15 22:47:46 UTC
Flags in the wind. Mark measures the alignment of the cryostat as Gaelen and Jeff reposition it. Mark expresses his excitement at doing a Helium transfer. Sirius 2.  One of Sweden's communication satellites.
It's Sunday evening.

Saturday was spent installing and aligning the cryostat on the gondola, which ended up being an all day affair. Once alignment had finished, the receiver and DAS were also put on the inner frame and cabled up. I spent most of the day chasing pointer errors in the ground station code.

Both the liquid helium and liquid nitrogen tanks were topped up today on the cryostat. Following that, Barth spent a good deal of time debugging the ADC board watchdog, which is still not working right. In the end, Enzo had to add another capacitor to all the cards. I spent a bit of time helping. I also worked out a termination procedure for the telescope for the end of the flight. Chris needed this so he could work out the overall LDB termination procedure. Marie, Gaelen and Matt remounted the star cameras. Gaelen wired up the inner frame thermometers, and Matt mounted the Motorised Valve Box.

In the evening Matt, Ed, Gaelen and I (the Canadians) tried to find somewhere to watch the World Cup Hockey final between Canada and the Czech Republic. It was being broadcast on Sweden's Channel 3. Unfortunately the television in Hotel Dagobert didn't have that channel so Ed investigated other places where we might be able to get it. We considered going into Kiruna to find a bar where it was being shown. However, after some investigation we learned that the control centre for the communications satellite which broadcasts Channel 3 was here at Esrange. So we went to the control room and were able to watch the game there with the night staff whose job is to keep the satellite functioning and in the correct orbit. Despite Canada's poor showing, it was an interesting experience. It does seem a bit odd, however, that they can't pipe Channel 3 into Dagobert even though the room where they receive the satellite downlink for distribution of the Channel to the rest of Sweden is in the building next door.

Tue 2005-05-17 13:27:00 UTC
Gaelen, Jeff and Marie inspect the primary. Sun shining over the mound of ploughed snow at the end of the pad. Hotel Albert. BLAST scans radar hill.
It's Tuesday afternoon and it's snowing again. We're slowly approaching flight ready.

Barth and Enzo replaced one of the ACS cards yesterday morning due to a dodgy watchdog circuit. New replacement seems to be working much better. Matt painted the back of the solar arrays white yesterday, something that NSBF's thermal analysis indicated was needed.

The sun shields went back on, hopefully for the last time before flight. Gaelen, Mark and I then installed the "wings" on BLAST. With the loss of all our competent people (viz. Jaspaul and Marco) I once again have an opportunity to do such mechanical tasks, rather than just software and electronics. We had our second preflight planning meeting and appear in good shape to be flight ready this week.

In the evening we did the star camera alignment test again. This involved installing a laser in the secondary and having it shine onto the top of Radar Hill where Mark, David and Jeff could see it and shone a light back for the star cameras to lock onto. Despite the cold weather, the procedure was successful.

Today we've planned an Iridium test with the LDB guys. The chin has been attached, which means an end to alignment checks of the cryostat. We'll also hopefully attach the solar arrays and flight batteries today.

Thu 2005-05-19 15:13:01 UTC
BLAST with the chin attached to the wings. Mark uses the nitrogen chopper to test the mirror. Looking down on Radar Hill.  The balloon launch facility is on the far side of the hill.  Behind the left edge of the hill, you can see the red and white tower of the rocket launch pad.
Thursday afternoon, and we're taking the gondola apart to extract the cryostat.

After the snow on Tuesday, Wednesday was clear and pleasant. The solar arrays and batteries were mounted in the morning. NSBF managed to schedule some TDRSS time for us so Enzo was able to test the beyond line of sight telemetry (uplink and downlink) and it seems to be working. Mark also lead a troop to try and map out how well the primary and secondary directed signal into the detectors. This was done by putting a cold source (a bucket of liquid nitrogen) at various places in front of the mirror and looking at the bolometer detectors to check if they saw it. The results were disappointing: light hitting the entire top half of the primary mirror is not getting to the detectors. Various theories were suggested, the best one we came up with is that the front two legs that hold up the optics box have broken and the optics box has fallen forward, which seemed rather difficult to believe.

Somewhat discouraged, we had dinner and then Barth, Ed, Matt, Marie, Gaelen and I walked up to Keops Hill, which is a little west and slightly higher than Radar Hill. On our way back down we met Mark who was out for a run. He told us he had figured out the problem: when reassembling the optics box, one of the mirrors had been put in the wrong orientation. This cheered us up a bit, since we now had a reasonable explanation. The decision was made to take the cryostat out in the morning.

In the evening the cryogens were blown off from the cryostat to allow it to start warming up. Ed and I did a few tests of the schedule file system, discovering and fixing a number of bugs in the process. Also, Bert, one of our data display computers had a hard drive failure, and I stayed up for a bit to try and work on that.

This morning, before removing the cryostat, the gondola was rolled out the door again to test to solar arrays and batteries. Results were promising, and the arrays and the battery charge system seem to be working as designed. After coming back inside, we began the long task of disassembling BLAST to get the cryostat out. It's just been placed on the stand as I type this and will be opened shortly. In the end, this likely hasn't cost us much in time, since it's not clear that the pad will be ready before we're back together, middle of next week.

Sat 2005-05-21 06:04:42 UTC
Gaelen and Mark remove the cryostat. Mark checks the alignment.
It's very early Saturday morning. Somehow, I've managed to get myself on the night shift, which is by far the least exciting shift. (I'm the only one on it.) During this time I've been working on removing some of the unpleasantries from our commanding software. The original idea was we could run test flights during the night, but that plan has been delayed by other issues.

Mark and Jeff opened the cryostat early yesterday, just about the time I was going to bed. I slept through a fair chunk of the day, and when I returned I learned the bad news: the mirror which we had thought misaligned was, in fact, aligned properly. Not only that, but a full day of testing hadn't got us any closer to figuring out where the problem lay. A few more ideas will be tried today. In addition to the alignment conundrum in which we find ourselves, we also discovered upon opening the optics box that one of the filters has warped, which makes it unusable. Peter Hargrave, who designed the optics, is arriving on Monday with a replacement filter.

If that wasn't enough, we've found more problems with the flight computers, and Barth was forced to open the pressure vessel to debug them.

Mon 2005-05-23 22:04:37 UTC
Looking over Enzo's shoulder at the cryostat.  You can see the red light which was installed in the optics box reflecting off Mirror 3 through the window. The river north of Esrange. Mark, Enzo, Peter, and Jeff working on the optical alignment.
It's Monday evening. It's been a fairly slow couple of days for me. Most of the activity of late has centred around the cryostat. The weather has been quite pleasant, with only a little rain to break things up.

Mark and Jeff, with help from many of the rest of us, spent the weekend trying to figure out what was wrong with the optical alignment in the cryostat. They put a small light inside the cryostat and then closed it up. This allowed them to visually check how the light travelled from the bolometer arrays off all the mirrors and out the window in the cryostat. It was then cooled down to liquid nitrogen temperature (about -200°C) to see if the change in temperature made any change in the optical alignment. No shift was discovered, which is what we expected, but it still left us stymied as to what was misaligned.

Today Peter Hargrave arrived from Cardiff, with a new set of filters and a fair bit of knowledge of the optical system. The cryostat had been warmed up starting Sunday and it was opened up again today. More alignment tests proceeded, and we think we've made some progress in the alignment.

Marie, Matt and Gaelen balanced the inner frame during a free hour or two, which has allowed Ed, Barth and I to run scan tests with the gondola itself. This has been productive for finding and fixing bugs in the pointing system. Tomorrow Ed, Gaelen, Matt, Marie and I plan to take a day trip to the Ranua Zoo in Finland for a change of pace.

Thu 2005-05-26 10:30:48 UTC
Entering the Elainpuisto (Zoo). Two owls of some sort.  I didn't get a picture of their sign, so I ca'n't say what they are. Matt slides down to victory. Haparanda Church, one of the ugliest churches in Sweden, according to Gaelen's guide book.
Tuesday: We got up early to leave for Ranua. This was somewhat problematic since I had been working nights recently and had only woken up around four in the afternoon on Monday. Nevertheless I managed to take a nap during the night.

We got on the road shortly after 7. Our route took us from Kiruna to Pajala and then across the Finnish border into Pello. We then headed for Rovaniemi where we had a bit to eat in the northernmost McDonald's. We got to Ranua Zoo around two in the afternoon, an hour later than we had anticipated since we had forgotten about the time change between Sweden and Finland. Nevertheless we found the zoo to be of a good size to fill the two hours before it closed without having to really rush or skip anything. The zoo itself was a pleasant experience and filled with local wildlife. The majority of it is navigated on boardwalks which weave among the trees of the forest in which the zoo has been constructed. The pleasant walk in the woods was nice, even without the added novelty of the zoo animals. For specifics on some of the strange beasties we met in Ranua, please see the gallery page.

Since the opportunity presented itself, we decided to take an alternate route back to Kiruna, travelling west to Simo on the Gulf of Bothnia, and then following the coast until meeting up with the E10 in Sweden again. Along the way, we stopped in Kemi to allow Ed to throw rocks into the Gulf, in Haparanda to take a picture of a odd looking church, and in Kalix to have a tasty dinner at a wine bar and cafe. In the process of having dessert here, we discovered a local delicacy: the cloud berry. Turning away from the Gulf, we headed back north along the E10 to Kiruna, and had another brief stop at the Arctic Circle Centre which was, unfortunately, closed.

Sat 2005-05-28 15:15:50 UTC
Marie listens for bubbles in the balance system. A strange contraption in one of the creeks that we cross on the way to Kiruna.  There's a water powered turbine floating in the creek and held by the green line.  As far as we can tell, the only thing the turbine does is pump water through the white hose where it gets disgorged onto the ground to the left so that it can flow back into the creek.
It's Saturday afternoon, we're just about to head to town to catch the latest installment of Mr. Lucas's Star Wars at the local movie theatre. The past few days have gone quickly, with little excitement. Let me try to summarise.

Wednesday was BLAST Media Day. What this meant is Mark, Barth, Danny Ball, Site Manager for NSBF, Olle Norberg, Head of Esrange and Thomas Hedqvist, our Esrange Campaign Manager held a press conference just after lunch to talk about BLAST. After this, everyone came over to the Cathedral where we introduced the media to the telescope. BLAST made it on page 15 of the local paper.

Thursday was slow. There wasn't much to do but wait for the cryostat to cool. Barth, Matt, Marie, Gaelen and I went grocery shopping in the afternoon. Mark, Jeff, David and Itziar left early Thursday morning for a two day trip to Lofoten in Norway. Mark's brother Paul arrived in the evening. He's here to hopefully film the launch, as well as everything leading up to that. Matt, Ed and I ended up heading up to Radar Hill late in the evening where a small party had been held by the satellite operators and technicians up there to mark the brief pleasant period between the end of the snows and the start of the mosquito season.

Friday had little of importance happen other than Mark, Jeff, David and Itziar returned in the late afternoon. In the evening we had another planning meeting to identify outstanding issues before being flight ready.

We didn't have much planned for today (Saturday) either. Barth is taking the day off and has organised the trip into Kiruna to see the film tonight. Mark supervised the construction of a primary mirror sized window for beam mapping, similar in construction to the plastic and pink foam window we had made a few days ago to stand in for the secondary. During the course of construction, Gaelen cut his hand and had to be taken to the hospital in town for stitches. Luckily nothing important was cut, although he isn't feeling up to seeing the film with us.

This whole time, when we have nothing else to do, Ed and I have been running schedule files to test the flight software. We've encountered the odd bug along the way, but on the whole things have been going smoothly.

Tue 2005-05-31 19:56:47 UTC
Marie applies the heat gun to shrink the plastic into place for the primary mirror window. The telescope scans Jeff. David contemplates a cut of lamb.
It's Tuesday night. We're just finishing up some alignment tests.

By Sunday the cryostat was cold so the bandpass and alignment tests where done. Yesterday (Monday) the cryostat and associated electronics were remounted, again hopefully for the last time. Following this was the standard cryostat alignment procedure which took a good part of the day. In the evening Gaelen, Marie and Matt remounted the star cameras, which had to be removed to insert the cryostat. Following this, Barth scanned the telescope across a dewar of nitrogen that we placed high up above the second floor offices. This test confirmed the cryostat alignment tests which told us that our beam was ever so slightly askew, but nowhere near as bad as it had been the last time we tried this.

The sun shields were reattached today and we began doing final preparations for launch. In the afternoon Barth's nitrogen bucket test was repeated but at a farther distance. Since the bucket was further away, getting it high enough so that we could scan it with the telescope was a bit of a problem. We were required put the lift truck out on the pad and then send Jeff up in it with the bucket, which let us look out the door at it. Matt is doing a further series of such tests tonight, back again on top of the second floor offices.

While we were looking out the door, we also did our star camera to telescope alignment procedure where Mark and company go out to Radar Hill and we shine a laser at them. They then shine a flashlight back at us, which we can see in the star cameras, and from which we can deduce the offset.

Tomorrow we have slated the final buttoning up of the telescope before we are flight-ready. Thursday, then, we will probably have a hang test and after that we should be flight ready. Our first flight opportunity seems to be on the weekend.

Thu 2005-06-02 04:32:10 UTC
BLAST awaiting the hang test. Two empty nitrogen dewars and a helium dewar being stored outside.
It's Thursday morning; we've planned a hang test to start about 10. Hopefully I'll be alseep by the time it starts. (I'm still working nights.) We're having some spotty snow flurries right now.

Most of the remaining hardware tasks were done on BLAST today. The wings and chin were mounted again, the mylar floor was installed, the motorised valves for the cryostat were mounted and tested.

In the evening, Ed and I worked a bit on testing data coming from the star cameras. Enzo removed opened up and fixed up the lock motor again. Ed and Enzo performed some tests to see how close we could point towards the sun before the secondary was illuminated by the sun.

Fri 2005-06-03 04:42:14 UTC
BLAST buttoned up with the last of the sun shield panels installed. Hercules waiting to pick us up for the hang test.
It's Friday morning. The hang test didn't happen yesterday due to weather. Instead we finished buttoning up and Enzo did some noise tests in the evening. Esrange hosted a party for us in the evening as well. I spent the night babysitting a long scan of the roof whilst taking care of a few odds-and-ends. Enzo and Ed will try to make a map of the roof scan to test their map making code. Phil Mauskopf arrived today.

People have started to arrive now for attempt two of the hang test, which will commence around 07:00. It looks a lot more promising today as it doesn't happen to be snowing.

Fri 2005-06-03 07:31:19 UTC
Three of the riggers wait to pickup. Barth waits with BLAST. A rain cloud looms on the horizon. Pushing the gondola back inside, out of the rain.
It's 09:30 on Friday. We rolled out shortly after seven to the hang test, but discovered a small rain cloud looming over Radar Hill soon after so we're back inside for the time being. Once this rain cloud passes over, we'll see about trying to go outside for the hang test again.

Mon 2005-06-06 20:41:33 UTC
The PV in the drying rack. Attaching the ballast hoppers. Doing transmission tests on the pad.
Saturday: We rolled outside again for another attempt at a hang test Saturday morning as we never got another chance on Friday. The clouds were dark and looming, but at least it wasn't actually raining at the time. We were, naturally, all eager to see the end of this hang test. One thing we did manage to test sufficiently on Friday was our beyond-line-of-sight telemetry (TDRSS and Iridium) so we didn't have to do that again Saturday. Most of the tests were performed right outside the door, a hedge against sudden rain and a rushed re-entrance to the Cathedral. Despite a few alarming (but short) sprinkles, we manged to cross off almost all of our tests on the list. The last test, testing the line-of-sight receiver up on Keops Hill, required us to venture out to the other side of the pad, which put us that much further from the safety of the highbay in the event of a surprise storm. But, that test went fine as well and we finished up the hang-test around two. After a well deserved lunch, there was a weather briefing. The forecast: no launch window before Tuesday night.

There were then talk about some of us, including Paul, taking another trip out west to the fjords for a day or two as a break. After some discussion, it was decided that we would leave early Sunday morning, instead of Saturday afternoon as we had originally been thinking. Part of this decision was due to me being unable to leave Saturday afternoon, having been awake since 22:00 on Friday night.

Mon 2005-06-06 23:59:52 UTC
Mark's birthday party. Ross, the NSBF meteorologist, explains the forecast at the weather briefing. Making use of BLAST's arm hole.
It's Monday night and we're gearing up for our first launch attempt.

Saturday night we had a birthday party for Mark. Marie and Matt had baked brownies for the occasion. Immediately following this I went to sleep, since I had been up for about twenty-three hours by that point. I woke up shortly before seven for the road trip, but in the end we decided to forgo it, on the off chance that we had a launch opportunity Sunday or Monday.

Sunday it rained all day, and things were very uneventful. In the afternoon we had a weather briefing and the forecast was for a launch window opening up some point in the eighteen hours between noon Tuesday and six Wednesday morning. So we've spent the day today doing final tasks and tests. The NSBF crew will come in around seven to get their stuff ready. Some of us will be in before that to do a final balancing, a final cryogen transfer and other necessary pre-flight tasks. In the morning, too, we will hopefully learn from the meteorologist when during the eighteen hours the launch window will be.

Most of the crew here has already left. Ed and David still remain, writing the final flight plans, and Jeff is here too. I stayed late last night and woke up late today, but I should head to bed shortly.

Thu 2005-06-09 16:33:09 UTC
Ed exhausted from making schedule files. A spring. A large cavern in the visitors' centre.  The surrounding rock is Cambrian bedrock, which seems to do a good job of holding up the ceiling. A cutaway view of the mine's operations.  There used to be a mountain of essentially iron which was dismantled starting in 1910. Since then they've been working their way down.  Their main drift is now at 1045 metres below the summit of the mountain.  The visitors' centre was at the 420 metre level. Paul sets up for
It's Thursday afternoon. There was no launch Tuesday due to high low level winds. We're looking at another all-day launch day Saturday.

I went to bed Tuesday morning when Mark, Jeff, Marie and Gaelen came in to get things ready for the launch. When I woke up again shortly after noon, our pick-up time had been pushed back to seven in the evening at the earliest. Most everyone in the group had returned to Dagobert for some sleep, anticipating being up all night.

We all got together at five, after an early dinner to prepare, but after working on this for a bit, Ross, the meteorologist had bad news for us: although the surface winds would drop down to acceptable levels by around midnight (acceptable being 4 to 5 knots), the low level winds (at an altitude of, say, Radar Hill) would remain too high. The launch attempt was scrubbed. To give us something to do, Barth, Gaelen, Marie, Matt and I walked up Radar Hill around midnight and verified that it was indeed windier up there than it was lower down. Instead of walking back down the road, Gaelen suggested we take a short cut right down the side of the hill back to the base. If it was shorter in distance, it probably wasn't in duration. It was certainly more scenic.

As a diversion, we organised a mine tour for Wednesday. Gaelen, Marie, Matt, Ed and Paul went in to town for lunch. I didn't go with them because I was still asleep due to my odd schedule. Instead I went in with Jeff and David around two to meet up with the others. We then headed for the mine tour which started around three and lasted about three hours. It's an impressive mine and the tour was enjoyable. After the tour we went out for dinner at the Ripan Restaurant up on Luossavaara (Salmon Mountain), behind the city.

Today has been quiet so far. Most of us are taking it easy, anticipating a busy weekend.

Fri 2005-06-10 23:48:08 UTC
More graduates. Looking through the entranceway. A troll waiting on top of the mountain.
Friday night. The forcast still seems favourable for a launch attempt tomorrow, at about two in the afternoon.

Today Marie and Ed went into town to get a hair cut. Matt and I tagged along. In town we met up with a parade of high school graduates who were celebrating the end of the school season. It appeared to be quite a community event.

After the haircutting, we drove back to Jukkasjärvi, the town between Esrange and Kiruna where the world-famous Ice Hotel is made each winter. We arrived in northern Sweden just as the Ice Hotel was closing, so we never got to see the inside of it, however, it's bones still remain, melting chunks of snow and ice next to the Torne River out of which it was created. Gaelen and Paul met up with us and we looked around the Jukkasjärvi Church and then took a tour of the Ice Hotel site. In addition to the strand along the river where the Ice Hotel is built, they have also a large building which they cool to -8°C year round. During the winter it is used as a construction workshop. Now they had an exhibit of ice scupltures based on the works of the Swedish illustrator John Bauer there. The sculpture work was quite impressive.

After the tour, all of us save Paul, who had a prior engagement, ate a wonderful dinner at the Restaurang Hembygdsgården (Old Homestead Restaurant in English) in Jukkasjärvi.

Sat 2005-06-11 13:44:05 UTC
Enzo. Mark unhooks the gondola from the crane. Coming to pick us up.
It's quarter to four Saturday afternoon and we're getting ready to be picked up for our second launch attempt. We're trying to get outside on the flightline as quick as we can and then we'll wait to see what happens. Estimated launch time is 21:00 local time (19:00 UTC). Everyone seems optimistic. I forgot to mention that there's a streaming video of the pad from up on Radar Hill. It should be accessible from http://iptv.esrange.ssc.se/.

Sat 2005-06-11 18:14:12 UTC
Victor attaches BLAST to the launch vehicle. Getting ready to attach the SIP solar array. BLAST hanging under a rain cloud.
It's quarter after eight Saturday evening. We're still waiting to go out to the flightline. The new estimated launch time is midnight local time. The winds have been calm, but a small rain cloud just passed over the pad, so we're now trying to dry everything out.

The helium tanker and spool have already made the trek out to the finger to set up there, which seems like a promising sign. The riggers are starting to think about putting down the ground cloths, which is the first step in rolling out.

Also, mosquito season seems to have just started in the last hour or so.

Update: 01:24 UTC
We've just launched successfully. We're at five kilometres and climbing at five metres a second. I'll have photographs and my launch video later, but right now my camera's battery needs to spend a bit of time recharging.

You can get live GPS data from the payload at the NSBF's tracking site.

Sun 2005-06-12 15:01:46 UTC
The surprise rain cloud receding over the horizon.  This was the last bit of bad weather we've seen since it left.  Sunday has had gorgeous weather. BLAST on the flightline. Erich and Victor discuss wind conditions.  Victor is holding onto two pie balls at different altitudes.  The two lines being at different angles means that the winds are different are at different velocities. Inflation continues. BLAST ascends.  The white dot is one of the pie balls.
It's 17:50 (local time) Sunday evening. BLAST has been up in the air for about fourteen hours now. We launched just after 01:00 UTC and reached float around 04:00 UTC at an altitude of 39 kilometres (129,000 feet). This is higher than we expected and rather nice, since it means that much less atmosphere to look through.

People have over the past few hours finally staggered off to bed, after twenty-four or more hours being up. The only ones left here are Barth, Enzo and I. I've been hanging around until line of sight telemetry dies, which is just has, with the balloon 620 km (385 miles) to the west, over the Norwegian Sea.

On the whole things have been performing well. Our ascent was rather slow, which was initially a problem since we got really cold when going through the tropopause, freezing some of our electronics. After some time at float, however, staring at the sun, things seems to have thawed out, and started working again. The other thing of note, which gave Barth something to worry about during ascent was the remaining charge in the flight batteries. Since we spent so long on the flightline before launch, the batteries got depleted more than we had anticipated. If they had run out of power before we got to float, we would have been in trouble. Because of this, we started pointing in azimuth significantly before we got to float, in an attempt to keep the solar panels pointed at the sun. This, it turned out, was a good thing to do, and we were able to recharge the batteries.

These first hours while we're within line-of-sight have been spent trying to characterise the telescope as much as we can. Enzo and Ed have already made some impromptu maps, but we need some more time (and sleep) to get a real idea of what our beam looks like.

The other excitement for the day was the loss of our Internet connection. The fibre between Esrange and Kiruna was cut somehow stranding us here without access. More serious than me not being able to upload the accompanying launch video, we need Internet to be able to connect to our computer in Palestine which is our only link to the gondola once our line-of-sight transmitters die. I spent a frantic few hours with Chris Field of NSBF and a couple of the Esrange guys who had been up as long as us to try somehow patch into the net. In the end, Esrange managed to give us a temporary patch through Stockholm until the cable gets repaired, something for which we were very grateful.

Mark and Jeff are planning to leave early Monday morning to make their round about way to northern Canada for the recovery. Paul will also leave tomorrow and hopefully be able to meet Mark and Jeff for recovery. The NSBF crew are already deep into packing and departing themselves. The rest of us will stay here for the rest of the week, following BLAST's progress until we terminate. And, now that we've lost line of sight, I'll head to bed and get a few hours of sleep...

Tue 2005-06-14 03:26:01 UTC
The indicator file on the map.  The flag points in the direction of movement.  You can see a trail of pock marks from previous updates of the file. The Esrange party.  The weather today was outstanding, so the call was made to have the party on the grass outside.  The food was excellent.
It's early (05:00) Tuesday morning. I got to sleep around midnight last night and slept fitfully until about 06:30. Arriving in the lab, I discovered that I had missed the excitement that had resulted from an electrical storm in Palestine, which brought our link to the gondola down for some time. More network outages both here, and in Palestine have kept me busy.

BLAST's flight path still looks good. It's been travelling basically west, with small diurnal fluxuations. (The telescope tends towards the sun, which revolves once a day. So, in the evening the telescope drifts northwards, and in the morning it drifts back southward.) We're currently over Greenland and we're estimating another three days of flight from now.

Enzo, Ed and Barth have been working on making maps from the line-of-sight data from which we can extract sensitivity and beam size measurements. Our estimates of the sensitivity is lower than expected, which has meant that we need to control the telescope manually from the ground rather than just letting it run automatically. Because of this, the losses in the network between here and Palestine have been especially alarming, since when the network is down, we can't command the telescope.

In the evening Esrange held a party for us and the NSBF crew, who are leaving Wednesday.

Wed 2005-06-15 17:13:27 UTC
Gaelen and Marie truck boxes into the high-bay for packing. My polar certificate.
It's Wednesday evening here. We're maybe eight hours from termination of the flight over Victoria Island. Conditions there are overcast and it's sleeting. Mark and Jeff are up there, awaiting termination.

The past few days have been long and frustrating. Ed has been kept really busy rescheduling our observations at least once a day. The rest of us have been kept occupied by alternately monitoring the gondola's health or packing up the high-bay.

Everyone's sleeping schedule is slightly different, but we basically have two shifts: Gaelen, Marie and Matt on the one shift and the rest of us on the other. Other than occasionally sleeping and eating, we've been in the high-bay working, which has made the shifts rather long.

Our speed over Canada has remained high (> 30 knots) and we'll likely be cutting down almost a day earlier than we had hoped. When we have had nothing else to, we have all been worrying about our travel plans.

Fri 2005-06-17 09:01:13 UTC

Sorry, no pictures. All our computer equipment is packed up.

It's Friday morning and essentially everything has been packed up. BLAST terminated around 06:00 UTC yesterday morning. Once we had hit land over Victoria Island our speed dropped dramatically (to about 15 knots), and the NSBF Operations Control in Palestine, Texas kept phoning us to delay termination. Ed and David had a bit of work to find more fields for us to scan, so as not to waste the extra time.

It came as a bit of a surprise when we were phoned back asking us to shut down for termination as quickly as we could: the balloon had taken an unexpected turn to the south, leading us into an area of the island full of lakes, instead of the more northerly plateau that we had planned on putting down on. We hurriedly shut down the telescope and were then immediately terminated: BLAST and the parachute were separated from the balloon and falling to Earth.

Here followed another tense hour or so as we watched the telescope's descent, wondering if we'd land in one of the many lakes which satellite photography told us was there. Eventually we got a call from Palestine telling us that the payload had landed and that they were still receiving telemetry from it, a good sign: it meant that the SIP was still working so the telescope had likely not landed in a lake or been dragged over the ground.

So that's the end of the flight, we're still waiting on word on recovery to see how much damage the gondola has suffered, especially the mirror. Mark and Jeff probably won't know for a few days. We're almost finished packing up and people have started to leave. Enzo, Katia and David left Thursday evening, Matt took off this morning and the rest of us (Gaelen, Marie, Barth and I) will be heading for the airport after lunch today. Gaelen, Marie and I plan to spend the weekend in Stockholm, doing some sightseeing and recuperating from our ordeal before heading back to North America. I'm also hoping to get a chance to spend a few nights in England, visiting a friend. Hopefully I'll get a chance to upload a final bunch of pictures once I get back to Toronto.

Fri 2005-08-05 22:01:10 UTC
Barth and Enzo watch as Marie tries to set up her laptop to use a dial up account which the Esrange network people gave us to try as a temporary solution until the network came back up. Approximate landing site marked with the file.  At termination, Mark and Jeff, who were in Cambridge Bay, reported that it was pouring rain.  Fortunately satellite photography indicated that the storm was only over the southeastern half of the island: BLAST had clear skies for descent. Finally!  We get to leave.  Ed waits at outside the Kiruna Airport with everyone's luggage while Marie and Gaelen drop off the car.
Well here, finally, are the pictures from the end of the campaign. Sorry for the delay. After leaving Kiruna, Gaelen, Marie and I spent the weekend in Stockholm as planned, after that I flew to London for a few days before heading home. I have pictures from both Stockholm and London that I'll have to upload at some point.

© 2005 D. V. Wiebe. Last generated Mon 2017-02-20 06:12:01 UTC