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Here are the latest happenings at JPA              


Away 27 is nearing test ready status. Test ready means the vehicle is ready for a full up test.
In this test we run the entire mission with the vehicle on the ground. If for any reason the vehicle
get touched in any way the test fails. You can't change batteries at 100,000 feet.

The RF placement testing will take place this coming weekend. This is a process where we adjust
the positions of systems and antennas to cut down on radio interference between them. 

Velcro and more velcro....

  tear panels
The last part of the new launch system is just about complete. These are tear panels.
Each panel is 29 feet long and has four run of velcro each. Only 168 feet of sewing left to go.

 Kevin napping
OK Kevin, back to work.......


On April 19th Robert Compton, the President of the Sacramento L-5 Society passed away.  Robert
was active in the Sacramento space community for over twenty years and a rocket builder all his life.
There are those who talk and those who build. Robert was a builder. I can't tell you how many of his rocket
engine have thundered across the desert, more, I'm sure, then ten small companies put together.

Robert was a good friend and a kind soul, one of those quite guys making a difference.

He will be missed.


Here are two Ascender 175 pics from two years ago. These really give a feel for just how big this vehicle is.

 Ascender 175           Ascender 175


Testing and Sewing

We had a great build session Saturday.

One of the Away 27 GPS tracking systems had an intermittent failure during shake tests. The offending
cable was identified and rebuilt.

Fifty-eight ground handling loops, forty-five feet of seams and twelve Velcro squares were sewn on the
balloon launch system. These two systems require almost as much sewing as the Ascender 90 did.

The local L-5 Society had their meeting at our shop. They showed a great video from a Tripoli amateur rocket
launch. Lot of great launches and tremendous explosions. It was both a great inspiration and a great reminder about
procedures and checklists. 


The new helium flow meter arrived today. Unfortunately it has the wrong gauge. The smallest unit tallied is 100 cubic
feet. We need the meter to measure down to single cubic feet. The mix-up came from the higher pressure fitting
we ordered for it. People using those fittings tend to need the bulk measurement. Oh well, back in the box....

A good sense of direction is mandatory around JPA. Especially when assembling things that are much larger than the
building their in.

Lost in Blue
Lost in Blue


Aerospace tip for the day: Don't sew extremely long Velcro strips while wearing a sweater......

Away 27 is starting to look like a flight vehicle. Two GPS tracking systems were repackaged and tested. One is
mounted on the vehicle. The insulated camera housings were redesigned and rebuilt. The old housings worked fine;
however, adjusting the camera settings after powerup was time consuming. The new housings have access panels
that will make setup go smoother on the morning of flight.  


The new launch system uses huge 29 foot-long tear panels. These are held onto the system with with four full
length Velcro seams. The long sewing runs have been a nice break from the hundreds of little Velcro square we've
been sewing all month. We're only few days away from having the first of the two systems needed for the Away 27
mission complete.  

Another 200 PongSats have arrived over the last two days. This flight is becoming less of an exploration of the
upper atmosphere and more like an invasion.

This weekend we'll start integrating systems on to the Away 27 high rack structure.


Of the two airship being worked on one is an Ascender class. It's the Ascender 100. It about the same size
as the earlier Ascender 90. The new one is a little longer and a little flatter.  Here's some early Ascender pics.

Ascender 20
Ascender 20 in flight

Ascender 90   Ascender 90
Ascender 90 in the hanger.

Ascender 90
When we first built the Ascender 90 it looked huge. After we built the Ascender 175 we started calling
Ascender 90 the 'baby'.



                               JPA DVD

All the great videos from the web site plus a lot more!  Go to the JPA Store and get yours today.
Help keep us flying!


PongSats for the Away 27 mission keep coming in. PongSats are a big motivator for science
and space education. Many are very sophisitcated and great deal of science is done. However,
I have a confession to make. I love the ones with great paint jobs!!  Who says science has to
be dull?

New Ring

        Joing the ring segments 1               Joining the ring segments 2
        Joining the ring segments

             Lightweight ring 1                     Lightweight ring 2
             The completed airship ring.


Flowmeter selected. We're changing the way we put helium in our vehicles. We have always used pressure
gauges and tank volume to measure the Helium we put into the balloons. The lift is then directly weighted. This
has worked fine till now. With the high wind launch system the balloon lift cannot be directly measured before flight.
To solve this problem we're switching to flowmeters to measure the helium going into the balloon. We already had
a needed to make the switch. The liquid Helium fill system will also use flowmeters. 

A new carbon ring. Last night the last of the lightweight segments were joined. I'll have pictures of the new ring
up tonight.

Aligning the struts on the ring was a real challenge. Since we only had to do it a few time we didn't build a jig.
We measured all the angles, lengths, made sure it was all level and tacked it into place. After making sure it was
good the parts were carboned down. The problem, however is that this is a major pain. This time we're going to
unbolt the strut assemble off the first ring and use it to align the critical first mounts. This should cut the time down
from two days to three  hours.  


The team put in a big day on Saturday. Normal build sessions run till 8:00pm. At 2:00 am Sunday
morning the gang finally put down their tools and called it a day.

The forth quarter of the new ring is out of the mold.  We've trimmed the carbon and the segments are
now ready to be joined into a ring.  The last ring weight 7.5 lbs. The new ring is coming in at 2lbs, 10oz.

As the Away 27 mission gets closer, the planning for next missions are at the forefront. We're considering
postponing the Away 28 mission for a series of rocket flights. The technology being developed on Away 28
won't be needed till next winter. The rocket flights will accelerate the Mach Glider program. Rocket missions
are a bit cheaper and simpler then balloon missions. That will help make things less crazy while we're getting
the new airship ready for flight.

Sometimes the challenge is to get the data, the tech, the training and the funding to all land together. It's easy to
get it coordinated for one mission. Doing it across years of a project is tough.


Zen in the Art of Aerospace

It's been a week of writing. Proposals, abstracts, summaries and descriptions, I think the ink cartridge
in my brain is getting low. The only way to manage it is 300 words, sew 10 attachment loops, 300 words,
mix epoxy, 300 words, cut carbon...

It strikes me that this has a Zen flavor.

Write when I need to write, sew when I need to sew and mold giant carbon airship rings when I need to
mold giant carbon airship rings.


Ed has done a great job on the engineering mockup crew seat. The seat is part of the crew pod
development for Dark Sky Station and Ascender. Cockpit layout is critical. With a person in a pressure
suit sitting in the
engineering mockup crew seat we will be able to measure reach, mobility and visibility.

      crew chair mockup 1       crew chair mockup 2      crew chair mockup 3
All of the surfaces of the mockup crew chair can be adjusted.                                          


The team was hard at work Saturday. Mission preparations for Away 27,  Airship construction and crew pod
 were all on the to do list.

  Away 27                                             More Rings!
Away 27 being modified to carry more PongSats.                        Getting the mold ready for another airship ring segment.

It's always something....                     More sewing!               Away 27 PongSat housing mounts
It's always something.....                                 No! Not more sewing!                                Making parts for Away 27. 


On a fundamental level ATO (Airship to Orbit) is just a really big rockoon program,
(rockoon: balloon launched rocket). We've flown quite a few rockoons as part of ATO development.
We're getting ready to do some more this fall. Here's some pics from a small one (eight foot long
rocket), we flew eleven years ago. The pics show the rocket climbing out of it's launch box. They're
a little blurry because they are frames off a video on zoom. The rocket was carried aloft by a train
of nine weather balloons.

          Preping the balloons                  The launch box
           Preping the balloons                                                       The launch box

 lift off   Motor ignition  Motor warming up

 Rocket emerging  Rocket out of the box  Plumes deflector plates in action

 Launch!          Art: crossing the balloons
                                                                           We didn't get the shot of the rocket passing the balloons,
                                                                           but this art is what it looked like watching it.



With the large number of PongSats on the upcoming Away 27 mission, we need to reconfigure
the high rack vehicle.  The existing  boxes can hold 119 PongSats each. However, with 1,400
PongSats on this flight the weight on all those individual boxes is too high. So instead of separate
boxes we're going to enclose three larges areas of the frame of the vehicle. We did this before on
Away 9 mission. The rack was very different, but the implementation is the same. This will give us plenty
of room for the PongSats while still leaving deck space available.

PongSats on Away 9  Away 26 showing Away 27 configuration
Away 9 PongSat configuration.                                    Away 26 showing the new configuration for Away 27.


Another 107 PongSats showed up today. You can always tell when there is a mission coming up.
My desk is covered in ping pong balls.

Every day we get more news of NASA cut backs in science and education programs.
It strengthens our determination to pick up the slack. Not only to provide science missions and
education outreach where NASA has left off, but to excel beyond what was done before.
Note to the other groups flying out there (big guys and little guys), each time you lift off the ground
and your not giving your extra space to someone elses science or education payload, you are
missing an opportunity.


The one of the best part of my work is opening the boxes of PongSats. It's amazing the different and
creative experiments students try.  A group of elementary student from Westside School are among
those flying with us on Away 27.  Here is there mission patch they made for the flight. It will be proudly
displayed on the side of the vehicle. 

                                             Student PongSat Mission Patch

                         Scary number of velcro squares                                        The new ring
More carbon work and sewing.

The high wind launch system requires a lot of sewing. I realize that this does not make for compelling updates;
more sew done, hey we did some more sewing,  ooooo, ahhhhhhh more sewing, and the like. Oh well, that's
the way it is.  Here's Paul persevering at the machine. The system needs 432 Velcro square to sew on.
117 done so far....

We're building a new lightweight version of the large carbon rings for the new airship. These rings will be only
one third the weight of the original ring.  We molded a lightweight ring segment Saturday. It was removed from
the mold on Sunday. It came out perfect.  On the left is a ring segment ready to be trimmed. On the right is the
new segment still in the mold and vacuum bag.


New Video:  Lift Off from the Business End

                                                  Lift off from below
Did you know that rocket motors whistle? At least solid propellant ones do.  When the motor pressurizes
the air being forced out the nozzle makes a low to high pitch whistle. The reason you never hear this is that
you don't normally put your head under the rocket when it's firing. Rather then our heads we put a video
camera under the rocket instead. The camera was blasted away by the pressure wave before the motor
got going. The camera was fine, but the video was cut short.  It's still very cool....

The rocket is the JPA MicroSat Launcher Block 2, firing a 14,000 n/s motor and flying to 20,000 feet.

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This page was last edited on April 30, 2006
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