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Here are the latest happenings at JPA              


PongSats are arriving! Two sets of PongSats for the Away 27 mission are ready to go. That's 78 student
experiments so far. We're expecting over 1000 on this mission. Forget space tourism, this is space
science and education in action.


Another ring segment went into the mold this evening. I waited for two hours to make sure the vacuum seal,
(double seal this time) held.

                               Art of the Mesospheric Explorer in flight.

                                   Mesospheric Explorer   


For the ATO program the most important part of the atmosphere is the Mesosphere. The Mesosphere starts at
about 160,000 feet. The Mesosphere is an interesting place, but we don't know much about it. There is even
evidence of life up there.

One of the ways to get some answers about what's happening up there is our Mesospheric Explorer program.  
The Mesospheric Explorer, (ME) is a small probe that can be set to extreme altitude on balloons. 

We flew he first ME three years ago. The prototype failed in flight at 35,000 feet.  The new vehicles are a little
better :) We are going start flying ME's side by side with Away missions.  This is cheaper that running a stand
alone mission. The highest we've been so far is 130,000 feet. We should be pushing that number up soon.

                           Mesospheric Explorer         ME with the hood open

This Mesospheric Explorer had two transmitters, two cameras and a array of sensors.  It weighed just over four pounds.


The forward ring assembly is on the vehicle. whew....  One down.


The ring assembly was reassembled with the the new strut flanges. It came out great. The entire
assembly is now very stiff. Tomorrow the whole unit gets installed on the airship.

This excellent Dark Sky Station Block Two art was sent to us by Dave Harris in the UK. I can just image
being in the Ascender and seeing this view as we approach the station.

Thanks Dave!
                           DSS Block Two


Some days you make progress other you just break even. 

68 degree strut flanges that we made on Feb 8th were just too flexible. They would allow too much
movement of the ring when the airship encounters turbulence.  So today the part was redesigned and
a new mold was made. The laminate this time used a balsa core. This stiffens up the part without adding
very much weight. We made two parts from the mold this evening.  It's a record for us.  From concept to
production in a single day.

The vacuum seal on the ring segment that was curing last night failed. This caused the carbon fiber not to
be completely pressed against the mold.  The part is also heavy, the vacuum presses out any excess resin
in the fibers. The up shot is that the part can't be used. This is the second time this month this has
happened, however last time it was just a small part. This time a big ring segment. Working carbon fiber is
my art, so my artist side is appalled, my business side thinks; "that's ten tee shirt sales worth of materials
wasted", and my sleep deprived side just thinks about the five hours wasted, grrrrrrrrrrrrr.


Much of the last few days have been spent writing a report for the FAA. We have a big launch
coming up in the fall and the process of getting the clearances has begun. There are three main
government agencies that we work with to get clearances for what we do. Each of these agencies
have up to a dozen levels that need to sign off before lift off can begin. It's always good to start early.

We're still working on ring two, (see ring assembly one below). The hinges are out of the molds and
are ready for trimming. As I type the first quarter segment of second ring is curing in the mold.

Dark Sky Station Launch
Morning in the Black Rock Desert prepping a Dark Sky Station for flight.


Saturday is our big build day. It's when the team gets together for building flying machines and
eating tacos. Great job folks!

     Making patterns for carbon fiber.                              more patterns.                         Cutting Nylon.
Making patterns for carbon fiber.             More patterns for the second lower hinge.             Cutting nylon.

On Sunday we continued on with the second lower hinge and got the carbon layup in the mold.

This weeks sewing tally, 1,376 feet.  Can you sew your way to space?


The exciting part of working on space stuff is seeing the vehicle, the rocket, the platform or airship. However,
often you don't get to see the ship until final assembly. Most of the time is spent hip deep making and testing
parts. Drawings of spaceships are important and fun, but the parts are where it's at.  and there are a lot of parts.......
I'm hoping to give you a feel for what working in a small space program is really like.

The lower ring hinge:

                   Hinge mold       lower hinge
                                            The Mold                               The Part (attachment bracket not shown).



For the past two days we've been working on the lower ring hinge mold. It's more complicated then the
upper hinge, (see below for hinge making pics). The lower hinge also has the mount to the airship integrated
into it. It is nearly complete and I hope to get carbon on the mold by the end of the day.

We need to buy more Helium.  So everybody go to our store and buy a tee shirt, OK?


Every vehicle in the Airship to Orbit program has a development path. The each path has a series of
stepping stone vehicles. One of the key vehicles is the Dark Sky Station. There have been four
Dark Sky Stations so far. We're projecting five more to go.

Here's a rough look at DSS's to come:

Dark Sky Station 25                  Dark Sky Station 57
DSS 25: A twenty-five foot diameter vehicle.                                  DSS 57:  A fifty-seven foot diameter vehicle.

     Block One DSS                             Block two DSS

      Block One DSS:  First Crewed Vehicle                                               
 Block Two DSS:  Crewed of six, first long duration vehicle. 

                                                    Block Three DSS
                                                         Block Three DSS: Two mile across city at the edge of space.

Now before you say anything, I know the drawings are crummy.  We spend our time building instead
of sketching.


Saturday we made the carbon hinge for the second ring. We still need to build the airship attachment for
the ring before we can mount it. Creating the parts for attachment will be the focus of next week.

The Sacramento L-5 Society had their monthly meeting at our shop. There is so much happening in with
robotic probes there was a lot to talk about. Unfortunately, things are a little slow on human space flight
right now....


Speaking of big parts,  we measured and cut eighteen twenty-eight foot nylon panels. What a workout.
Forget pumping iron, try six hours cutting nylon.  These will be assembled and used on the Away 27 mission.

Later today we will begin make a duplicate of the ring assembly seen below. It should take just over a week.


Airship Ring Assembly

                                          Ring Assembly
                                                        Sometime small parts and sometime bigger ones.


The starboard motor and propeller are back on. She's looking ready to leap off the ground again.

Sometimes the hardware store's high altitude airship aisle is a little lacking.  I looked and they just didn't
have a lightweight, carbon fiber, 68 degree strut flange. We try and keep custom parts to a minimum,
but sometimes there's no way around it. This is the seventh molded component of this vehicle.  We need
to make four.  The first one came out of the mold beautiful. On the second, the vacuum system failed during
baking and the part was ruined.  Well, if it were easy.......


Like with many things it's easier to take apart then put together. Saturday we added stiffening plates to the motors
mounts on the airship. To do it we had to disassemble both entire motor/propeller assemblies. It was fast to take
apart, but took the whole day today just to get the port motor/propeller back on. In the process we replaced all the
metal washers with nylon ones, every bit of weight counts. Tomorrow, the starboard assemble.

There has been a tremendous amount of traffic on the website today.  However, I can't find any new news article or
web story behind it.  If you've seen what it is please drop me a note. 
John Marchel Powell  Thanks!!


We had a great build session Saturday. We built a carbon hinge for the big carbon ring (see Dec 05 log), did more sewing,
programmed the flight command uplink system, did more sewing and added stiffening plates to the airship motor mounts,
and did I mention we did more sewing....

This is the real secret of getting to space. Build, build, build and build.

   Making parts   The Layup  Many hands...
Making a carbon ring hinge.

The crew
A proud bunch of space pirates. 


PongSat the Movie....  
or at least the ABC news story

                                          Dale            Dale S.  
                                                          large mpg                                         small wmv             
                                                                         right click to download video

This news piece, by our favorite news guy Dale Schornack, has aired several times, the
latest being over the holidays.


Yesterday we launched two weather balloons in a 15 to 20 mph wind. The new system made it easy.
The wind was irrelevant.  After a few more training launches like this and we'll be ready to declare
problems with wind over.

A big thank you goes out to K'John for donating three boxes of gloves!!!!


Finished Nose Cone

Joined nose cone    Painted cone
Once again out of the mold.                                                All cleaned up and ready for Mach.

A huge THANK YOU to Mike for the donation of a new Dremel tool and a set of electrical tape, solder and shrink tubing!!!


Creating a Nose Cone

This nose is for our three inch diameter rocket. It was originally designed to be all carbon and flown to Mach 5.
For the next flight of this rocket we only need it to handle Mach 2.  We also need the cone to be RF invisible.  
A antenna will be inside the cone and needs to transmit out. This means Kevlar instead of carbon fiber.
We're building a new mold for this cone, we don't use this technique anymore, however this mold was good
for one more cone.

Nose cone molds    Fabric
The mold                                                                              The layups; Kevlar core capped in glass.

in the mold   out of the mold
All the layup in and vacuumed.                                          Raw out of the mold.

Cleaned up   Back in the mold
Starting to look like something.                 Now back in the mold for joining.

                                  The mold halves are aligned then clamped. A strip of glass fiber
                                   around the inside of the seam and the nose is joined.



Saturday Build Session

The Build Crew         Paul sewing          Bob and his nose        Completed Panel    

Missions are forming up and the team has hit the ground running. The team worked on a wide cross section of
projects on Saturday.
Efforts included creating a Kevlar nosecone for the three inch diameter sounding rocket,
ocumenting legacy hardware, (oh my god we have legacy hardware?!?!?!), sewing launch system panels
and writing software for the main flight controller.

A great big thanks goes out to team members Tracy, Bob, Ed, Mike, Paul and K'John for an excellent job.  


Sometime the most important tests don't occur in space, but rather in the parking lot. While developing
high altitude platforms we have created some pretty strange flying machines. Common to all of them is
they flew in the parking lot before heading to the edge of space. This video shows three very different types
of platforms.  This work was done in 2000 and 2001.

New Video:  Flying Contraptions.  Platform experiments in the parking lot.

                                                  Platform video                                     


For some of the developement missions this year we're bringing back a design from a few years
ago. This three inch diameter rocket is called 'Spaceflight'.  It is designed to be launched from
100,000 feet. It was a very reliable vehicle for us with many successful flights. It's a real mover.  
When powered by its full sized motor, (7000n/s), it's so fast we've never seen it flight and the videos
only shown smoke.

Spaceflight Rocket Drawing

                                                                                   In Action
  Spaceflight in Action


We're in the planning stages of the 2006 flight campaign.  Our over all Master plan/Mission list guides us in general.  
Funding, clearances and resources though, have their impacts on which missions to fly and when they get flown.

Pic from the Past

Here's a shot of balloons being readied to lift a rocket for launch back in February 1995.
                                 Early Rocket launched from balloon.


New Video: There and Back Again
                                                                          There and back video
From launch to 77,000 feet and back to the ground again. The remains of a balloon got wrapped around the
vehicle on the way down making an interesting effect.

Work comtinues on the Away 27 vehicle. With so many PongSats on board we may seperate the mission into
two vehicles. If we fly two, we will try and take pictures of one vehicle from the other at the edge of space.

Be sure to stop by the PongSat store for cool space tee shirts:

                                                              Top ten tee shirts


JPA's plan for 2006:


October, November ,December 05 what's new page.

August September what's new page.

July what's new page.

May-June what's new page.

March-April what's new page.

Februarys what's new page.

Januarys what's new page.

  Back to the JPA home page.

This page was last edited on February 28, 2006
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