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Here are the latest happenings at JPA              


Batteries, Boards and Pockets

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

                                The Sky Music Video
For those of who always knew they belonged in the sky.
Here's the YouTube version:


Ascender 175
 Inside the airship
I came across this pic yesterday. It's the inside of the Ascender 175 airship while it's only partially inflated.


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.
 Flapping launch bag
 Modifing the bag

Testing the sensor array
In deep                                                  Instrument deck
Need.........More..........Stuff.......                                                          New instrument Deck

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 himself into.....


PongSat Scientists at Work

 Sophie and Martha
Sisters 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?


Sensor work

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.


Saturday was 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 purred.

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.

  KArl cutting carbon

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.

 Bob soldering  Kevin soldering    


Sometime you get to play with the spaceships, sometimes the hard work calls. The hard work being
selling the spaceships,
no sales, no missions. Yesterday was spent shaking hands, smiling and pitching
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.


I'm heard 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 youtube link?
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.   


System Upgrades

For the past couple of weeks we've been playing with the new Propeller computer from Parallax.
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.


Paul shot this great closeup video of the Away 33 launch.  

   Away 33 Launch closeup


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.

More Parts...

Making a cabon part 1           Making a carbon part 2 
Just out of the vacuum bag,                                         and off the mold,

Making a carbon part 3    Making a carbon part 4
a few minutes with the band saw,                  another airship part is born.


Carbon, Nylon and Ping Pong Balls

         Packing PongSats                                                          Field of Blue   
Here's the scene just after the mission, packing PongSats.         There's always more big blue things....

         Patching decks          Patching decks 2
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.   


Spaaaace Coffee!

The coffee we flew on the last mission is up on e-bay! Put in your bids and support PongSats!

Airship Motor Testing

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 test 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 batteries.


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

 Away 32 launch  
This is a 30 second clip of Away 32 lifting off. The other videos shows Away 33


What's this got to do with space?

I've recently got about a dozen e-mails and a few phone calls asking the above question.
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
the system.

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
persistent travel.


More Mission Pics

Moment of Launch
At the moment of launch.   

Away 32 in flight         Away 3 from below
Away 32 climbing at 1,300 feet per min.                          Away 33 from below just after launch.

Flight Tracks

 Flight Path    Away 33 and Away 29 tracks
Away 33's flight path                                        Away 33 flight compaired to last Novembers 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 pages
are back.

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.

                           Getting ready


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                  
                   Away 33 video 
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"

Yesterday Away 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.


The Away 32 and 33 mission now has its own page!


Morning in the desert       Away 33 closeup       Recovery
Morning in the desert.                    Away 33                     Recovery!


There were six camcorders filming the launch and five on board views. Here's a few quick clips.

 Away 33 launch      Away 33 on board camera

Not to be left out here are the externally mounted lower deck PongSats and the PongSats in the saddlebag.

Lower deck PongSats     PongSats!    


Here's the first batch of pics from Saturdays missions.

Antenna setup     Preping the systems
Setting up the antenna farm                           Away 32 prep.

Balloon launch bag    Away 32     
Balloon fill                                               Away 32

Launch   Away 32 in air
Launch!                                                            Up and Away!

Away 33   PongSats!  Away 33 in air   
Away 33                                    PongSats with various light sensors        Away 33 on it's way
       Up top  
   Away 32 at the edge of space.     



Both missions 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.

January-March 07 what's new page.

October-December 06 what's new page.

August-September 06 what's new page.

May-June-July 06 what's new page.

March-April 06 what's new page.

January-February 06 what's new page.

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

August September 05 what's new page.

July 05 what's new page.

May-June 05 what's new page.

March-April 05 what's new page.

February 05 what's new page.

January 04 what's new page.

  Back to the JPA home page.

This page was last edited on July 31, 2007
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