The purpose of the Away 5 flight was to test the Advanced Platform structure. With this structure we can launch larger rockets. The Away 5 is also our first step toward the Stratostation. The system carried and full command/control telemetry system. The Comet autonomous backup system, a live video downlink, three locator beacons, flashers and a duel cold gas deployed parachute system.
Images can be clicked on to see a larger image. photos by Jennifer Kirkpatrick
|Ice Station Zebra
We set up operations on the snowy overlook a quarter mile off the lakebed.
|Black Rock underwater
Behind Chet, John and Ed is the Black Rock 'dry' lakebed completely submerged.
John Kirkpatrick sets up the telemetry antenna.
|Tracking a sounding balloon
Under all that covering is Sue McMurray. She's tracking a sounding balloon we flew an hour before the main launch
Big but light
In spite of being five feet tall and twenty five feet wide the structure only weights four pounds.
|Setting up the video booms
In order to closely monitor the stability of the platform a live video downlink was used. The twin boom antenna array grabs even the faintest signal.
The fame breaks down for transport. It takes about an hour to setup at the workshop, about two hours in a cold snow laden field.
|A man and his balloons
The best balloon mounts are people. Ed managed to get two!
Nine flight balloons and two spares are inflated.
|Balloons being attached
There are two release mechanisms for each balloon. The primary release is controlled by the ground. The backup release is autonomous. It takes over and brings the platform home should communications be lost.
One of the benefits of the Advanced platform system is the ease of launch. With our traditional long bridle system the launch is the most difficult part of the operation. With the Advanced Platform it's a piece of cake.
|The launch team raise the platform to arms
The frame is given the 21 pound load.
One early release caused the platform to tilt as it left the ground. However, it quickly leveled out.
|Climb out system check
The post liftoff system check revealed all systems go!
|Stable and climbing
The on board video showed a very stable platform. Everything points to the Advanced Platform to be an ideal launch platform for the MicroSat Launcher.
|Up and away to 15,000 feet
Unfortunately the winds aloft were not as predicted. It Away 5 was heading directly for a mountain range that is inaccessible. So instead of 50,000+ feet we settled for 15,000 feet (AGL).
|The landing area
The Away 5 landed four miles downrange in a ice and snow covered lakebed. This lake bed is northwest of Black Rock. In this picture you can see people and a jeep (very small) at the touchdown point.
At 15,000 feet the command was sent to release six of the nine balloons. The aim was to allow the remaining three balloons to carry the platform down to a soft landing (Mars look out). We got excellent live video from the platform of the balloons releasing. The Away 5 descended flat and stable down to three thousand feet. At this point one of the balloon tore in half. The platform tipped 90 degrees. As a precaution we deployed the two backup parachutes. The Away 5 landed hard and it sat inverted on the snow. However the frame remained fairly intact. The instrumentation unit broke free on landing and much of foam core structure was crunched. It foam core did it job and all of the systems were intact.
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