We've been running full duration tests on the airship motors over and over the last few days. The motors run fine,
we've been using the tests to develop battery configurations. In it's final configuration the two new airships will use
lithium batteries. However, for the test flights they will be running on NiCads. They're heavier, but a lot cheaper. We
finished up assembling long battery "strings" that slide inside the structural tubing. It saves mounting weight.
The first motor sensor assembly checked out so we've been soldering up the second set. If we really push we can
even have backup set assembled together for the first flight.
When we sew we sew big. There's always miles of fabric laying everywhere. It was pretty strange to sewing these small
six inch swathes. A pile of them are needed for the balloon launch bag modification.
We shooting to get both new airships in the air before the end of the year. It's looking strong.
Edge of Space Music Video
For those of who always knew
they belonged in the sky.
jp Here's the
Ascender 175 I came across
this pic yesterday. It's the inside of the Ascender 175 airship while
it's only partially inflated.
7/22/2007 Busy Weekend!
The team was cranking this weekend. With two vehicles on deck
for flight and a third getting close there's
plenty to keep us working.
Here's some of the things we worked on:
We modified the launch bags to dampen out flapping. The edges tend to
flap a lot during high winds. We changed
the open end to settle it down.
Testing the sensor array Need.........More..........Stuff.......
We also built two motor wiring harnesses, mounted camera decks on Away
34 and last but not least we welcomed
new team member Ross. The poor fellow doesn't realize what he's getting
PongSat Scientists at Work
Sophie Paul (8) and Martha Ball (11) present their pongsat project at
the 2007 Stonybrook Elementary
Science Fair in Hopewell Township, New Jersey.
Did I mention that PongSats
are the best part of my job?
The last couple
of days we've been packaging the motor sensors electronics on to one
board. This unit will sit
in the center of the airship between the port and starboard motor
struts. A cable connects the RPM, temperature
and battery voltage sensors from each motor to the unit. The unit will
convert all the data to a string of characters and
sent it to the main controller. The layout is nearly done. Soldering
begins today. I hope to test it this weekend.
The motors put out a lot of electrical noise. Each sensor needed to be
tested to check for interference. It's like
when your blender messes up the TV. We taped each of the sensors to the
motor and looked for errors
in the data. So far no interference.
The BIG Bag
Sometimes when I can't think I sew. Another 28 feet of Velcro got sewn
on the the new big launch bag. This may
be a comment on my mental state yesterday.
time to work on the airship. We got the reduction gears for the motors,
however, they were
made for a slightly different model. The mounting holes were redrilled
and flanges ground out. We got one
mounted on the vehicle and a propeller on it. I was slightly
nervous as we spun it up the first time. Gear boxes
that are a little out of alignment tend to chew apart in about a half a
second. With the modifications to these
smooth running was very much in question. The switch was flipped and it
The airship uses two of the carbon valves/mount
that we tested on Away 32. We've started building the second
one. The body halfs are out of the mold. Karl worked on the task of
fine trimming and joining of the parts.
Kevin and Bob worked on instrumentation. Both airship motors need RPM
sensors that talk to the main controller.
They did a huge push and went from concept to a working sensor in a day.
Sometime you get
to play with the spaceships, sometimes the hard work calls. The hard
selling the spaceships, no
sales, no missions. Yesterday was spent shaking hands, smiling and
the ads. "Whats does your business do?", "We build spaceships and sell
ads at the edge of space."
It gets folks attention, but it's a tough sell. After three
hours and forty pitches I'm hoarse and wiped out.
Oh well, it's on to the follow up calls today. We need to get the
missions in the air.
convincing arguments on both sides of the "How to show videos" issue.
Is it better to
make the video files available for download or to embed them as a
Or both? Here's the
youtube link versions of
two videos that we recently posted.
I'm leaving it to you. Let me know which is better. email@example.com
For the past
couple of weeks we've been playing with the new Propeller computer from
It's an amazing device, an eight way parallel processor on a chip.
We're going to start putting
Propellers in the new systems. The first applications will be measuring
the propeller RPM and battery
voltage monitoring. These uses won't really tax the Propeller, but it
will give us a chance to get the
feel of the new processor before we use it in a primary system.
It's getting a touch
confusing using the Propeller
computer to measure propeller speed, but it does
seem appropriate. Parallax also has
a new GPS. It's smaller and uses less power then the Motorola Oncore
we've been using.
We will be using the new
GPS on the airship. However it first needs to get flight
qualified on Away 34.
We've already got the new
GPS talking to the flight controller. It's a joy to intergrate, it's
built to work with our
existing flight computer. We've being flying both the old and new GPS
on the next couple of flights to build
experience with it.
7/09/2007 Paul shot this
great closeup video of the Away 33 launch.
When two is not enough
In the last two
trips to the desert we've flown two missions each time. This saves a
lot of money and speeds
up the development cycle. It's time to take a step further. In order
keep pace with our development goals we need to
move to three flight missions. At the same time I want our time in the
desert to go smooth and at a nice slow pace.
It is very doable. We now run two flight missions with greater ease
then single flight missions two years ago. It's all
in systems and procedures. One of the big time consuming tasks is
battery voltage checks. We're building an
internal monitoring system that is tied into the telemetry system. This
will give us a power on status without opening any
systems. The monitoring system is the easy part. The hard part is
handling the implications of plugging in the batteries
a few days before, before the vehicles get put into a bouncing trailer
and driven hundreds of miles. Switches get jiggled,
connections get vibrated and the smallest power leak that can go
unnoticed on a three hour flight can become significant
with the battery plugged in for 72 hours.
We've identified several procedure like the battery check that can be
altered to make the process easer. Our next trip
out will be a good shakedown for several of them. Away 34 will carry
some of the internal reporting systems. We won't
move to three missions at once until we get it all worked out.
Winter of 2008 will likely see our first triple flight.
So far our dual flights have been with the same general type of craft.
The second vehicle on the next mission is very
dissimilar to Away 34. That will be a new twist in learning to do
multiple flights at the same time.
We were planning
on the next mission being the new airship. Away 32 and 33 carried the
last of the equipment we
needed to test for its maiden flight. However, there are two systems
I'm just not happy with. The command system had
some trouble at max range and the live video was just awful above
65,000 feet. We've identified the problems and
the fixes are in progress. We
don't want to delay the airship flight, but I won't fly the airship
until I know the systems are
solid. The solution: We're
going to squeeze in another Away mission to confirm the fixes. This one
will be Away 34.
It will fly in mid August. We're going to take advantage of
the extra flight to expand our envelope a bit.
We're pushing this one high.
Just out of the
and off the
a few minutes
with the band saw,
part is born.
Carbon, Nylon and Ping Pong Balls
Here's the scene
just after the mission, packing PongSats.
There's always more big blue things....
We try and get two flights out of the decks of the Away vehicles. This
deck already has been up twice.
However with a little patch work it can fly one more time.
We spun up the
starboard motor to get some data for the upcoming test flight. First we
mounted a much small propeller
on the motor. The idea was that this smaller prop at sea level would
more accuracy reflect the full size prop operating
at 100,000 feet, at least in terms of load on the motor. After about
twelve minutes into the run there was a sizzling sound
coming from the battery pack. Off went the switches and the pack was
taken outside. After it cooled I pulled the housing
to fine of the battery blocks were puffed out and splitting. Very ugly
and very dead. These were not the flight batteries. The
flight batteries are lithium polymers. This was a big NiCad
battery set. I tried to remember just how old these batteries
are. The only thing I can come up with is very. Time for new
You know the
last mission had been put to bed when the sewing machine comes out.
It's back to work. If you watch
the videos of the balloon launches you can see the tear panel that peal
off the top of the launch bag. Those tear panels
are 18 inches wide. The new tear panels we're making are over ten feet
wide. There for -much- bigger balloons.
Away 32 Launch Video
This is a 30 second clip of Away 32 lifting off. The other videos shows
What's this got to do with space?
got about a dozen e-mails and a few phone calls asking the above
The answer: Everything.
Each flight in a step in developing the Airship to Orbit, (ATO) system.
Developing ATO takes a lot of new
systems, new technology and whole new ways of doing things. We
literally have a giant list. Each flight
another stack of things get lined off. Sometimes the results
make us add more things to the list.
It's working the problem, step by step, mission by mission.
Some of the things we do on a mission directly apply to ATO. Away 28
balloon deployment system is the very
mechanism that will be used in the large Dark Sky Stations. The
telemetry system tested on Away 32 will be used
on all ATO craft, from ground to orbit. The helium metering we used on
both Away 32 and 33 will be used throughout
Some of the things are for tools we need to develop ATO.
Several systems and structural elements on Away 32 are
from our new airship. This airship is not directly part of ATO, however
is it a critical tool we need to move forward.
That mission gave the parts a critical shakedown. Sometimes you need to
make the hammers and saws before you
can build the house.
When ATO becomes a reality tens of thousands of science and engineering
trained people will be needed to
take advantage of the new reach to space. There is already a huge
shortage of scientist and engineering students.
That's why there are PongSats on every mission we fly.
The edge of space is our
ladder to the stars. We need the experience of "being there". The more
time we spend in
the upper atmosphere the more we learn, the more we know. The knowledge
and experience gained has such great
value it can not be measured. Before we fly though the upper
atmosphere at Mach 24 we need to be "old hands" in
that ocean, the place needs to be our home stomping ground.
There are no imposable things. Only to do lists that are so long people
are afraid to work them. We're tackling ours
line by line. This is how ATO will get done, this is the countdown to
launch. It's the long road that only the stubborn and
More Mission Pics
At the moment of launch.
Away 32 climbing at 1,300 feet per min.
from below just after launch.
Away 33's flight path
Away 33 flight compaired to
Away 29 flight.
A reader pointed
out that the image links on the Away
25 page were broken. I discovered that the Away 23 page
was also not right and the Art page
was missing images also. I can't say the everything is fixed, but those
On the shop side all the PongSats have been sorted, certificates
signed, data and picture sheets printed
and video tapes copied. After much boxing and a trip to the Post Office
they are all zooming their way back to
their student researchers.
Just to show you how exciting aerospace can be, the ground antenna were
reassembled and put back up
on the wall. Sometimes the post mission is more work than the
mission.... Here's a great
shot of assembling antennas in the desert.
I want to us all
to pause a moment an note the passing on Tuesday of one of the greatest
science educators of all time. Don Herbert aka Mr. Wizard.
The "Watch Mr. Wizard" show inspired millions, including myself, not to
just watch science, but to get
into the kitchen, make, mix, and build and hold it in our own hands.
With all seriousness when I think of those great names of science,
Democraticus, Galileo, Newton, Einstein and Sagan
Mr. Wizard always comes to mind. He will be missed.
Happy Birthday Aubrey!!!
My son turns 23
today. One of us is getting old...
Away 33 The Motion Picture
Well, maybe not ready for the theater. It does have 8 minutes of prep,
launch and lots of cool on board scenes.
"No Disassemble Johnny 5"
32 and 33 were taken apart and put back on the shelves. This use to be
a sad process.
These little near space ships get the heart and soul of a lot of folks
poured into them for months. They then
get hurled upward for a brief moment of glory then taken apart.
However, after doing this for so long my mind
switched to the next craft these parts will make up. It leaves me
smiling. It a kinda of spaceship reincarnation.
There really are no separate vehicles or separate mission. It's all one
process that is getting us to space.
There were six
camcorders filming the launch and five on board views. Here's a few
Not to be left out here are the externally mounted lower deck PongSats
and the PongSats in the saddlebag.
Here's the first batch of pics from Saturdays missions.
Setting up the
Away 32 prep.
PongSats with various light
Away 33 on it's way
Away 32 at the edge of
went fantastic. Away 32 flew to 94,000 feet. Away 33 flew to 92,000
feet. The recovery teams got to
both vehicles back and they're now back at the shop. The team
really came together for this one. I'll have pictures and
video up this afternoon. May 07
what's new page. April 07
what's new page.