Saturday, November 29, 2014

Getting Ready For Recovery, Round 2

Hey everyone,

This is Ryan again. I’m taking the blog back from JohnE, because I’m heading back to the ice for recovery this year, and also because JohnE moved to Barcelona.

The Story So Far:

On December 9, 2012, the SuperTIGER experiment was  launched on a NASA Long-Duration Balloon from Williams Field, Antarctica. It flew for over 55 days—a NASA heavy-lift balloon record—and came down on February 2, 2013, at 82°14’40.2”S, 81°54’42.0”W. During flight, it collected millions of cosmic-ray events. The flight ended too late in the season for any attempt at recovery.

During the 2013-2014 Austral Summer Season, a team of four went to Antarctica to attempt to recover the SuperTIGER payload. Due to various logistical and weather-related reasons (detailed in previous blog entries by JohnE), we did not get the payload back, but did get a flight over the payload and some sense of the conditions on the ground.

The Plan

While everything in Antarctica is “weather and logistics permitting”, the plan for recovery goes something like this:

The SuperTIGER science recovery team, made up of people who worked on the SuperTIGER experiment, will deploy to Antarctica in early December. We’ll spend about 10 days in McMurdo getting our equipment, doing required trainings, and otherwise preparing for the field.

In the meantime, a “groom team” will fly out to the SuperTIGER site and land as close as it is possible/safe to do so. They’ll establish a camp there, and, using ground-penetrating radar to avoid crevasses, find a safe route to the payload. Once there, they’ll move the camp closer to the payload and begin grooming a skiway nearby for convenient airplane landings.

The SuperTIGER science team will then deploy to the SuperTIGER site via the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide Field Camp. We’ll spend a night or two at WAIS and then fly in to the new skiway at the SuperTIGER site.

Some of the groom team will then leave on the plane that brought us in, while the rest stay behind and stay with us at the SuperTIGER site. We’ll then spend ten days or so disassembling the payload (and maintaining the skiway). 

Once disassembled, we’ll bring the pieces of the SuperTIGER payload back to WAIS Divide over the course of a few flights. Over a few days at WAIS, we’ll put everything on pallets for easy shipping back to McMurdo.

Back in McMurdo, we’ll unpack everything from pallets and re-pack in into a shipping container, which will be shipped back on the northbound cargo vessel leaving in late January. 

The Team

The SuperTIGER team this year is made up of collaboration members who all spent time in Antarctica in the 2012-2013 season. Thomas and Sean from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center will be flying down at the same time I do. Thomas has previous Antarctic recovery experience with the BESS-Polar II recovery, which was very similar to the planned SuperTIGER recovery, and also was on the team that went down last year. Sean was part of the planned recovery team two years ago, and stayed in McMurdo into February 2013 just in case we got a flight out to the payload. Dana, our senior mechanical technician from Wash U, will join us in McMurdo, where he’s been for the last several weeks. Dana (and Paul, our head engineer on SuperTIGER) is working on ANITA, a balloon-borne neutrino experiment that will launch from the LDB facility sometime in the next few weeks. Once ANITA is ready for launch, Dana will jump over to start working on the SuperTIGER recovery.

I’ll have more in a day or so when I get to Christchurch.