Sunday, December 9, 2012

Launch Day: December 9, 2012

My alarm went off at 1:30am the morning of Sunday, December 9. I stumbled around the room and got ready in the dark, making sure to pack an extra change of clothes with my ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and the tripod I had checked out from McMurdo Gear Issue the night before. Then it was off to our usual meeting place to catch a Delta out to Willy Field.

Two Deltas were waiting, so I got into the first one I got to. Apparently, everybody else made the opposite choice, so I sat alone in that Delta for about 10 minutes before hopping in the other one and riding out to LDB.

It was weird riding out at 2am--the Sun was up, but it was casting long shadows that you don't normally see during the Antarctic summer daytime. By the time we got to Willy Field, BLAST was already out on the deck to the payload building (the BLAST team had the foresight to get into a van that was driving out from McMurdo). BLAST then got picked up by the CSBF Launch Vehicle, The Boss and driven out to the "dance floor", where the could be secured down while Super-TIGER was being driven around by The Boss (and, sneakily, appear in the foreground of any launch photos).

Richard ran through his pre-flight checklist inside while Dana got Super-TIGER hooked up to the crane of the payload building. Once that was done, we moved out to the deck and set down to be picked up by The Boss. Since the Hang Test, the straps on The Boss were modified so that we could be picked up and set on jack stands right on the deck, instead of on the ice in front of it. We then deployed the solar panels and the CSBF folks installed the ballast and secured the line-of-sight antennas.

We then sat out on The Boss while Richard ran through a quick version of his checklist and Drew ran through a series of tests on the commanding and data links. Once both of these were completed successfully  it was time to roll out to the launch pad.

Dana, JohnE, and I went out to watch the parade of vehicles on their way out to the launch pad. First came The Boss, with Super-TIGER hanging from it. After that went a pickup truck with CSBF personell, followed by a cart with the parachute system. Then, two tractors pulled trailers full of helium out to the pad.

While CSBF folks were setting up, we ran through Richard's short checklist again to make sure that everything was functioning on the flight line. Because the prevailing winds were coming from the south, the flight line was arranged so that the instrument would be launched with the wind, towards Mount Erebus. This meant that we would be unable to re-create the iconic panoramic photograph from TIGER showing an inflating balloon and Mount Erebus, but Dana got a panorama showing Observation Hill in the background and I tried to take some from our observation area.

Around 8am, I attempted to walk out closer to the launch pad to try to take some more photos. At first, it looked like The Boss was almost in fog, and by the time I got out to where BLAST was secured (no more than 3-400 feet away from the payload building) I could no longer see The Boss, or, turning around, the payload building.

While I was concerned that this fog would affect our launch chances, CSBF assured us that since it was very clear when looking straight up, the fog shouldn't delay us. Soon after, inflation started, and we got to see a slowly inflating balloon as the fog melted away.

By the time inflation started, we had attracted a crowd of EBEX and BLAST people outside behind the payload buildings in the designated spectator area. We all watched as the CSBF folks slowly filled the balloon with helium.

Eventually, inflation was finished. CSBF then got their folks out of the way and got ready to release the balloon.

When the balloon released, it slowly drifted up until it was directly above The Boss. Then, The Boss drove forward for a little bit, released the balloon and went in reverse. Super-TIGER then began slowly drifting towards the sky to scattered applause (those with cameras were still furiously taking photographs).

As the balloon slowly floated up, members of EBEX and BLAST congratulated our team. We stopped to admire the balloon as it drifted up, and then went inside to get to work.

With the launch over, our work was just beginning. We went inside and verified things were working and kept track of the instrument as it climbed up, noting the altitude, pressure, and lowest temperature every few minutes. The temperatures were especially interesting, since the sensors inside our thermal insulation cooled off slowly, while the solar panels were hot while they were under the sun on the ground, got very cold as we went through the troposphere, and then got very hot (up to almost 95C!) after being exposed to direct sunlight.

Just after lunch, we reached 85,000 ft, where we turned on the High Voltage system. The HV system was a bit of a concern, as maintaining high voltages at high altitudes is tricky, and has the potential to end badly. So far, nothing has failed, which we're obviously very happy about.

Once the HV was on, we got to work basically re-doing a lot of the calibration work we'd been working on the last couple of weeks. We adjusted some of the coincidence thresholds so that our event rate was as expected and we weren't getting events we didn't care about. We changed some high voltages to make sure that everything was matched.

While Dana caught a ride into town in the early afternoon, the rest of us continued monitoring the instrument and making sure everything was calibrated correctly. Makoto and Kenichi stayed until 11pm, then headed back to town to get some sleep in order to be rested to take over Monday morning. Bob, JohnE, Richard, and I spent the night out at Willy Field, alternating between trying to take naps and monitoring the instrument. I'll have more up about the monitoring, etc. later, but for now it's time to sleep.

The balloon can be tracked here:

Video of the launch and a timelapse I took are available on the Super-TIGER facebook page,


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