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Here are the latest happenings at JPA   wordpress version:  http://www.jpaerospace.com/blog


Switching to WordPress

WordPress is working out very well for the blog. I'm going to make the switch and just post there.  This and all of the
previous years of What's New pages will be available from the home page of the JPA website.

Google Sketch Drawings

We're slowly getting all of the vehicles drawn in Google Sketch. Both future vehicle and past one are going in. So far
MicroTandem, Away 33, Tandem HL and Mach Glider Block 4 are done.  I'm working on standard Tandem now.

Tandem Progress

We're adding more filters and other protections circuits to the Tandems electronics.  We fixed "noise in the lines"
problem we found last week, however we want to prevent that entire class of problems. It may be a bit of overkill. It add
over 80 electronic parts to solder, but it will make the system very resistant to radio interference problems.


Target Selling Airship to Orbit book

I for one am very jazzed.

                                Floating to Space


More Balloon Launched Rockets

I've have these three ancient CDs of pictures in the back of my desk literally from about a decade ago. They've been sitting
because they're photo CDs in a weird old Kodak format that nothing can read anymore. Today I tracked down the right driver
on the web and extracted the pics. Some I had copies of, but most hadn't been seen in a long time.

I've pulled together a few of the "Rockoon", (balloon launch rocket) flights. These are our early experiment. Most of these
pictures show the various launch boxes, the container that holds and launched the rocket. Next year we'll be lofting our
fourteenth generation rocket designed for balloon launch.

First JPA Rockoon      Fist JPA Rockoon Closeup     2nd Rockoon     Rocket Failure
The first rocket was only 14 inches long.                               This was a five foot rocket. It started out well, but had a problem at ignition.
Rocket 3  Rockoon 3 running      
Rockoon 5  Rockoon 5 running
Rockoon three's launch box.                      Three Running.         Rockoon five's launch box.                       Five heading for the stars.

Rockoon 6          Six under balloons             Rockoon 7  
Rockoon 6 launch box and under balloons.                             Number seven be carried out to the balloons.

For more pics and info see our Rockoon Page.



We got nearly the whole list done on Saturday. The drogue parachute box didn't get started and the some soldering still
needs to be done on the controller daughter board. It was a good day.

We also started reviewing the missions for next year.

 Ed and Paul                                          Bob and Ross      
Ed and Paul mount the parachute cannon on the Tandem.                     Bob and Ross pulling a prop off the starboard motor.

 Intense Bob                                          Kevin
Bob running tests at mission control.                                                    Kevin either debugging or looking up specs.   


Here's some of the things we'll be working on today.

-Mount parachute cannon on Tandem (needs to be removable).
-Cut covers for PongSat participant's DVDs.
-Put protection circuits on all Tandem main controller daughter board stamp IO pins.
-Sew pyro container insulation wraps.
-Put switch mount plate on camera controller.
-Drill pin pinhole in propeller thorough prop hub and shaft.
-Glue magnets on propeller shafts.
-Mount sensor daughter board boxes.
-Trim bolts on pyro containers.
-Make drogue parachute deployment box.


New Book at Apogee

Check out what coming out this spring at Apogee Books!

Balloon Test Video

Here's the video from the park test of the new 4000g balloon and launch bag. I sped up the time to show the whole
day in just over two minutes.


Blog Software

I'm trying out wordpress for this blog. I'm hoping it will making managing the blog easer. I don't know wordpress
very well so please bear with me.  I'm going to run wordpress in parallel with the existing What's New page for a
while to see how it goes.


The new blog allows posting. It's fine if folks disagree with us but I'll delete anything uncivil, rude or insulting.

Here's a great MicroTandem pic:

MicroTandem from below


We've been struggling with integrating a ride along payload on Tandem. A combination of serial standards that aren't and
more RF induction. It's getting there, but it makes for very long days.

Here's some more scenes from the Away 34 mission:

 Mission Control  Sunrise  The Blob
Plugging in Mission Control.                        Black Rock at dawn.                               It's the Blob!!!!!

 Our sponsors  Launch!   Away 34 and the moon
Now a word from our sponsors.                   Launch!                                                          Heading for the moon. 


The Midnight Bug

With complex system you get complex interactions. Last night we chased a very determined bug.  One of the computers on
the airship was reseting. It would happen when we transmitted a request for a GPS fix. It was very intermittent. After many hour
we worked out that it would happen when A) The backup tracking system has fully charged batteries, B) The parachute pyrotechnic
leads are connected and C) All other flight systems must be on. The weird part is the backup tracking system is not connected
in any way to the system having the problem and the parachute deployment is handed by a different computer all together.  

The finally figured out that the transmitter on the backup tracker was inducting into lead behind the parachute cannon putting a
slight current into the main controller.  The main controller talks to allot of systems over long wires and is protect from that sort of
thing.  However, with the right combination of commands that radio energy found it way to the auxiliary computer and reset it

Now that we know the problem all we need to do is fix it........  



The Tandem has five foam and fiberglass decks. The decks carry the telemetry systems, cameras, batteries
and anything else we throw on the airship.  Several systems were mounted on temopary decks while we were working
out what goes where. Today we started making the final flight decks.

Down the center
Down the centerline of Tandem.


Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm going to sneak in and put a fiberglass edge on an instrument deck before heading over to Mom's for

Lots of odds and ends got taken care of Yesterday. The camera controller was finished. We changed the connectors
for the harness that goes from all the cameras to the controller. The three pin "post and sleeve" is light and quick in the
field, but the positive lock is not very positive. I have a reoccurring nightmare about disconnected cameras. It's never
happened, but it was time for something more solid.  

The Tandem went up on scales for balancing. The first look was very close.

Back to building.


All of the camera heads for the live video system have been installed. One is pointed to each propeller, one is looking
directly down the center of  the truss structure and the last one is on a motor arm looking center of the vehicle keeping
on eye on the primary systems, the two drogue parachutes and the main parachute.

We also got started on a new camera controller.  More soldering so I can put off the sewing for yet another day!

Here's a picture from last spring when we test launched a scale Tandem.

                              Scale Tandem launch test


Cousteau had the Calypso, JPA has "Old Number 14". Our Mission control van has gone into the shop for repairs.
During the last few missions there has been the high pitch whine of failing bearing coming out of the rear axle.
We've pushed it as far as we dare. Time to get it done before we get stranded in the desert.

Today the backup balloon release controller was mount on the Tandem airship. We also got the first of four camera
heads for the live video system mounted.

We made a list of minor modifications to the launch bags as a result of the park testing. However, I've manage to
convince myself that I can put off the sewing till tomorrow.


A Day in the Park

Balloons, bags,  rings and systems were all tested. I don't think we embarrassed ourselves too much in front of the
film crew. SUCCESS!  It was a long and challenging day, but a lot of fun.  There is a Star Bucks that Sam from England
can never return to, but that a whole other story....


Big Day

Three big deals will be going on today. First is a bag and ring mating test. We will be going to the park and filling
one of the huge Tandem balloons.  We need to check the fit of the expanded launch bags. These balloons produce
a lot more lift.  There are four thirty foot Velcro strips that hold the balloon in the bag. Today we find out if it can take the
load. A ring will be mated to the balloon as it will be in flight. We'll be checking fit and nozzle placement.  It's also a chance
to train with one of these monster balloons.

The second project for the day is the first set of integration testing. All the systems, like the telemetry, have been tested on
the bench. Today they will all get tested in the Tandem. There are always surprises.

The third thing is becoming movie stars!  Well, not quite. A documentary film crew is coming to record the days events.
We're going to be part of a show on the atmosphere.  We're going to record them recording us, should be fun.

It's going to be an intense day.


Today I pulled three ounces out of the video system, Yea! Every ounce lighter means a higher flight and an easier launch.
The live video downlink needed a lot of work. It's was pretty beat up. It's hasn't been over hauled since the last three or
four missions it's flown on. It last flew on Away 33. On that flight we lost one of the camera heads.  We had a backup
black and white. I soldered on a connector for our custom controller cleaned up all of the connections on the existing
camera heads. I got as far as making a new battery system and cutting out the parts for a new housing.  Tomorrow
it will be reassembled and mounted on the aft end of Tandem.

Here's what the Tandem looked like back in July 06

Tandem Under construction 
This was when we first installed the rings.


Tandem Coming to Life

For me a vehicle begins to come to life when systems go on.  Today the wiring for the main controller, the motor controller,
the sensor controller and sensor arrays was mounted. The GPS tracking system was also installed.  The Tandem is now a
thinking breathing entity, although its thoughts are rather simple like, "here's my position" and "What do want me to do now?"

The wiring is complicated by the need to take the airship apart to get it to the launch site. We don't want to remount all the
wiring in the field. To avoid that there are break connectors where the airship breaks in half. I've gone thought more connectors
in the past month then I even want to think about.

She's starting to look like she wants to fly...


MicroTandem Launch Video


Here's a couple of pictures from building the Tandem.

Constuction                                Ring Assembly
Here's how Tandem looked two years ago.                             Ring Assembly with the prototype ring.

We had visitors yesterday from another high altitude airship group. It was great talking with other folks working the
high environment.  I did wedge in adding the serial port to the motor controller though.


Airship Work

Saturday was very long and very productive. We ran from 10:30am to 3:00am. We're trying to cutback on the long night.
However, it's hard to stop when everyones on a roll.

Here's a few of the things we worked on:

Foam and fiberglass camera deck 

Secondary GPS Tracking system

Insulated housing for the camcorder

Primary motor controller

The starboard motor went bad on us last week. We swapped out the motor last week. We still needed to pull
the propeller mount off the old motor.  It's now bolted on to the new one.

Paul brought in video he shot of the Micro-Tandem launch. Great stuff. I got it digitized yesterday. I'll pull clips from and it and
have them up in a few days.


     introducing:    Tandem


Live from the Build

It's Saturday and time for the build session. There is a big todo list today.

-Locktite all frame bolts 
-Trim sand and tape upper frame bolts
-Tape the inner lip of the rings
-Replace all metal washers with nylon
-Configure new GPS tracking controller
-Make a GPS tracking controller box
-Finish popper housings
-Load the bad van tire into JPs truck
-Sew new loops on the pleated end of the launch bag

The team is starting to trickle in. Paul is on the sewing machine sewing anchor loops on the balloon bag.
Your's truly is finishing up the pyro (balloon seperation systems) housing.

More as the day progresses.


  Paul     Karl
Paul sewing loops and Karl putting locktite on the airship frame bolts.

We're moving right along. The pyro housings are also nearly done.


The loops are on and the pyro housing are complete. The great debate of the day involves the movie "Snakes on a Plane"
and Australians, (yes, we're at an intellectual peak today).

Bob is testing the communications between the main controller and the sensor controller.


We're back from lunch.  Basicly an hour of chicken and mission planning. The next flight is pretty complex so we may stay
the night on the desert instead of staying in the hotel. That will allow us to set up equipement the night before and leave it out.

The voltage sensor have been calibrated and we're getting the van tire we blew on the last mission over to the tire store.
All two hundred frame bolts have been pulled, locktite applied and replaced.


All of the excess length from the bolts on the airship have been trimmed. Now we're doing the slow task of sanding all the cut
off ends smooth.

The flight digital compass just made though calibration. We made a slight modification to the program. It now put out true headings
instead of magnetic headings. That will make it a bit easer to use in the field.

Time to start soldering connectors to the new flight batteries. Does the excitment ever end!


The primary controller is being modified to control a bow thruster. It involves adding a another serial port and a few lines of code.

Ross is still soldering away on battery connections. As he finishes one stack I bring out another. I think the joke is starting to get
old. At least for him. It's still keeping the rest of us amused.

We just made getting the blowen van tire into the tire shop. Good news it was still under warranty.
$30 beats $250 anyday. The
tires are special, made for high load and pressure.  

Time for hamburgers for a second wind.


Battery soldering continues. Only two more to go. All of the trimmed bolts have been sanded. Only one more modification
to themain telemetry controller to go. The team is starting to getting tired. A few that came early have already headed off.

I've just finished the layout of a new balloon seperation controller (the popper). Bob got all the parts together for me so it's time
to build the puppy up.


We down to just three of us. One serial port, one ring to tape and one daughter board to complete and we're going to all it a night.


We're cleaning up and getting ready to head out the door. It's been along day with a lot accomplished.  We lined off the
entire todo list plus got we got all the sensors calibrated, and a new circurt built. We can all head home feeling a little close
to orbit.  Good night all.



The balloon launch bags were designed to handle two sizes of balloon.  Instead of making an entire new bag
pleats at the end of the bag are pulled and resewing. The pleats and a larger tear panel means, in theory, that a bag can be
switched between the two balloon sizes without much trouble. 

The reality turned out to be different. 'Bag size conversion' in turning out to be a lot of work. The next set of launch bags will
be dedicated to a single balloon size.

On Tuesday we're going to unveil the new airship on the site.  You'll finally get to see what those rings are all about.

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This page was last edited on December 5, 2007
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