[JPA logo]

Here are the latest happenings at JPA              


High Altitude Airship propeller test video.

                           Airship Propeller              
Airship Propeller
                                      Small                                              Large


As soon as the rings were mounted on the airship off they came again. The initial mount was needed to lineup four
additional struts for the hinges. The struts are carbon with aluminum ends. They are easy to make, just time consuming.
This thing is getting big. To reinstall the rings I had to open the roll up door just to move the parts into position.
We spun up the propellers testing a change in the mounts.  It was just a low speed run, but we got some good video.
I'll have a video clip of the test up tomorrow.


I headed to Las Vegas to attend one day of the NewSpace conference. On Friday, they held a business plan competition
for new startups.  A number of companies got to present their plans and ideas. These are always interesting, and I was in the audience.
I was floored when one of the companies started showing pictures of the Ascender. I just stared in disbelief as they ended with a high altitude picture from the Away 25 mission. I went up to the judges afterwards to tell them that this company was presenting JP Aerospace images. However, it was too late. The judges had voted, and the company won the competition and a thousand dollars.
I felt really bad for the other startup companies presenting.  You don't see this kind of thing too much in the alt.space community.
Some would view it as hard ball business. I view it as unethical.


A great big thank you goes out to Mark Menz of Mykey Technology, Inc.  He donated the printing of the certificates
for the PongSats students, two missions worth. That's a lot of certificates!

On Saturday, we calibrated the flowmeter and pressure-tested the fittings on helium fill system. Helium is the Houdini
of gases. It will find a way out.  Most the leaks were sealed and we got a pretty close calibration. We're going to rebrazen
one of the fittings and do the test again. Then the system will be ready for the Away 29 mission.

   Calibrating the meter

If you think the flow meter looks suspiciously like a natural gas meter.....
Actually, you would be right. Helium flow meters tend to have very slow flow rates. High flow rate meters are 
available but
the cost is way over budget. The natural gas meters work great for helium if handled properly. 

Truss Lift Test

Lifting stuff into the sky is what we do. To do it right. we test, train, then test and train some more. Saturday, the team used
the small scale high wind launch bags to launch a truss segment. The flight was only to thirty feet. It was the launch technique
we were exploring.

There are moments that make it all worthwhile. It's not when we make the big breakthrough or fly to a new height (although
thoses are good too). The great moments are when the team is clicking, running smooth, like a world class sports team. On Saturday
we were humming. It was as if they did it every day instead of for the first time. All that in spite of the 104 degree temperature.

 Truss Lift    Truss Lift

        Truss Lift
The launch itself was very smooth and stable, exactly what we were looking for.

NO! Not more sewing!!!!  After the excitement of testing, it was back to sewing. The PongSat
saddle bags got punctures
and a few tears from the snapped carbon rods on the last mission.  So it was time to put the Sons of the San Joaquin on
the CD player and start patching saddle bags. Two fixed, one to go...


I attended the AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) Teacher workshop that was held in
Sacramento.  Two things struck me. One: there are a lot of great education programs coming from the space industry.
Two: The new education regulations have completely eliminated the ability of teachers to take advantage of them. It appears
that all education reform in the US as done is to extend bureaucracy into the classroom and prevented teachers from
teaching. It was a day of being inspired and appalled.

Our gas flow meter has two inch fittings, but the rest of the Helium system has 1/2 inch fittings. It's a truism that space
technology is mostly plumbing. The last time I did any brazing it was on the submersible, the Bellavia, about ten years ago.
After several messy tries, it came back to me. The inflow side connections are done. The outflow was left till tomorrow, (after
the burning smell from the practice attempt clears from the shop).   


Both rings are complete. Wednesday they will be mounted on the airship.  The next step is to create fabric sleeves
that will snap over the rings. The sleeves will give the ring assembly a cone shape.

I spent the day drilling out the lightning holes in the ring mounts.  It's easier to cut the holes rather then mold them in.  
The holes save 1.8 ounces. That's not very much. However, carefully managing the weight of each component you
can really get some weight savings. I spent two hours reworking a part to save 0.4 ounces. After hundreds parts these
little weight savings really add up. That ten pounds you save can be the difference between 95,000 feet and 110,000 feet
of altitude. It could mean more payload or mission duration.

   Ring Pair      Mounting hardware
Ring Assemblies                                       Ring Mounts


The truth is that for every big exciting component you get to build there are dozens of small supporting components
that need to be made.  Simply put,
parts, part and more parts. Angle brackets, ring mounts, hinges and struts were
created today. One set of ring mounts were attached to the new light forward ring. The ring was then installed in the cradle.
It will take a few days to assemble this latest batch of part, but then the structure of the new airship will be complete.


When you build things bigger then 747s inside 2000 square feet of space you get good at finding space. We only rent the
giant hanger you see on many of the pictures when we absolutely have to.  We've been spending the last few days rearranging
the shop for additional space, (can space inside an enclosed area be truly infinite?).
 There is now new eight by eight foot chunk
of open floor space. Next week we will start filling it up with the next big part.


          Three Rings

Here are the airship rings lined up for a group photo. 


We made Wired Magazine!  Check out page 26 of the July issue.

The last airship ring is done. This week we will be getting all the mounting hardware install, then it gets mounted on to vehicle.

New systems are exciting, however it's just as critical to keep the existing equipment running. The team has been doing a great job getting the tears, scrapes and bumps found and repaired. Missions can be hard on gear.  I love finding broken things in the shop. I hate finding them in the field.

It's getting a little crowed at the shop. We have five vehicles under construction. Away 28, 29 and 30 along with two airships.
Away 28 is the roller deployed balloon system. We've flow 28 on low altitude test, but it hasn't gone high yet. That flight has been
bumped till after Away 29/30. Away 29 is the reflight of the 27 mission. We're trimming weight ounce by ounce on each system. Our goal is to be  three pounds lighter. Away 30 is new. This will be a small vehicle to be launched at the same time as 29.  It will testing new sensors and doing  photography. The Away 29/30 combo mission will be expanding our operational abilities. Mission control will be managing two vehicles in near space at once. Handling several vehicles at a time is critical to ATO.


Two ring quarter segments were molded today. It was a 107 degrees F in Sacramento today. It makes the molding process go really fast. Everything you need to do the mold needs to be laid out in advance exactly where you will need it. With the working time of the epoxy reduced from 25 minutes to 7 minutes the preparation time goes way up.

A controlled environment would be nice, however it drives the costs up. These vehicle are intended to work in extreme environments, they should be able to be built in extreme environments too. I've never understood the rational, for example, of designing a rover to operate in the dustiest place in the solar system that needs to be assembled in a multi-million dollar dust free clean room.


construction was on todays task list. We have one more carbon ring and supporting structure to go.
The ring support struts were cut to size and mold prep started for the ring itself. I'm shooting for a new ring by Saturday.
I'll keep you posted.


The Son of the San Joaquin have signed on to support PongSats!  Sometimes running a space program is a lot of work, and sometimes it's just a lot of fun.  The music tradition at JPA, starting with Space Vacuum continues!!

We mounted the decks to the frame of Away 29.  Kevin made new fins then joined Bob with post flight check out of the tracking systems.
Another day, another high altitude flight system.
We had some damage to repair on the
balloon launch bag. The wind caught it while we were putting it away in the desert. The bag has as much surface area as a sailboat. We ended up with a seven foot tear in the floor.  One long narrow patch and it's as good as new.
The PongSat saddle bags got quite a few holes. The Away 27 frame shattered on landing and sent carbon shafts through the nylon. One can be salvaged. The other two need to be remade. Sewing never ends........


Away 29 under construction                          
one step at a time....

    Away 29 frame             Carbon and Foam
    Carbon with aluminum connectors.                                  Carbon and foam decks.
    (it's like tinker toys on steroids)

Just in case you think we skipped a number, remember Away 28?      
                                            Away 28


Happy Birthday Aubrey!!!!!!

Here's some more Away 27 Pics:

  Getting Ready        One down, one to go.    
   Vehicle and downlink comms prep.               One balloon filled, one to go.
  PongSat Participants    More PongSat Participants  Kevin Signing
                          PongSat Experimenters!!!                                                               The vehicle signing tradition.

   You can see here the drogue tangled around the sign. This picture is from 14,000 feet.                         


The on board video from Away 27 is up on the video page. It shows the bounce at launch and the rather hot descent.

The flowmeter for the Away 27 mission finally arrived.  We ended up measuring gas off the pressure gauges. At least it's
here early for the next flight.


Away 27 Liftoff


The extra time gave a change for the team to really shake down the system. We tested and retested both the
flight system and the ground systems.

The telemetry configuration of every mission is different. In addition to the hardware changes required to
meet the mission goals, there is almost always an upgrades.  The results is that we end up tearing down
and rebuilding the mission control van each flight. On Saturday the team tore into 'Old Number 14' and rewired,
recabled, moved, mounted (pulled apart again and remounted), and generally worked themselves silly.
The ground infrastructure can be more work then the flight vehicle.


We are go for the Away 27 mission on June 3rd. We were originally trying to fly this weekend, however the
weather was looking bad so we bumped a week.

Here's the Away 27 vehicle.

Away 27

Bob and Kevin
Bob and Kevin, hangin with 27.

All the PongSats we get are great, however every now and then we get one that we just love.

                                                              Cool PongSat


Today we completed the design for an enclosure for the balloon cut down system.  This is very light fiberglass
tube with flanges to make it easy to bolt together and cable conduits on the sides. This is a minor change from
before where the systems is wrapped with insulation and taped before flight. It just makes the unit cleaner, (clean
layout translates to easier preparation in the field).

I was just about to make the mold for the part when it struck me that it looked very familiar. In fact it looked just
like a segment of the hub for the propellers on the airship.  I got out the hub mold and hour later there was a
cutdown enclosure sitting on the table. It was made from three layers of light fiberglass instead of ten layers of
heavy carbon, but the mold didn't care. It was great to pass on four hours of mold making. We plan for shared
uses of systems and molds as much as possible, but sometime we just get lucky.

An amazing amount of string goes into our space program. Here's the string layout for Away 27, (actually we get
very formal and call it rigging).
Away 27 Rigging


The telemetry bug turned out to be an artifact of testing. An overdriven signal that was corrupting packets.
Only one primary system left to test then on to the secondary systems.

We molded carbon fill tubes today. These are sleeves that fit inside the balloon nozzle. They making filling the
balloons significantly easer and provide mounting for the rigging.


Troubleshooting and more troubleshooting.

Sometimes the team just gets on a roll and you just can't stop them.  Bob starting chasing a bug in the
Away 27 primary telemetry control system Saturday morning. He pressed through till 5am Sunday morning,
but no joy. After a few hours of sleep he was back at it till 11pm Sunday night. The mystery remains, but, he
narrowing down it and the end is in sight. Bob the bug-slayer....

Each system is in the process of a complete preflight shakedown. We actually like to find system bugs. Better
found on the work bench than at 100,000 feet.

The last PongSat "Saddle Bags"  (there are three) was finished off today. No more sewing for this mission,
(big team sigh of relief). The final Away 27 todo list is down to 43 items. On the home stretch.

Next Saturday we'll be conducting the full scale launch testing and training.


Last Saturday myself and many of the JPA crew attended the International Space Development Conference in
Los Angeles. We gave a talk about PongSats and even got to throw ping pong balloons at the crowd. It was good
to touch base with the space community.

The organizers were gracious enough to give a presentation about Robert Compton during the awards ceremony
and allowed me to say a few words about his tremendous efforts and contributions.

We've finalized the systems list for the Away 27 mission. There's still a number of decisions to be made, but
it's down to the details.

Away 27 Systems List

                Balloon Launch Systems (2)
                Flow meter
                Helium Regulator
                Helium Tanks (6)

                PongSat Saddlebags (3)
                Parachute, Main
                Parachute, Drogue
                Stabilizer Fins
                Antenna Mounts (4)
                High Rack with Camera Booms
                Logo Boards (6)
                Parachute Deck
                Landing Bumper
                Balloon Rigging
                Carbon Nozzle Inserts
                3000g Balloons (2)
                Flow Separation Streamers (2)
                Balloon Cutdowns (4)

                Spread Spectrum Controller
                Backup Controller
                GPS Tracking System (2)
                Mini Beacon
                Internal Systems Temperature Data Logger
                Backup Balloon Release Timer
                Recording Video Camera
                Digital Cameras (6)
                Digital Camera Controllers (3)
        PongSats (1000+)

One of the problems with building something much larger then the building you're in, (see last months update)
is that  you can't see the entire thing at once. While making the high wind launch system you can only
see one room sized segment at a time.  In order check it all out and make sure it really was assembled correctly,
both systems were hauled out to the park today.  All went well, no backwards panels, no components mounted
on the wrong sides.  A practice launch was conducted, (no Helium), it went great.

The only issue was a minor one, they were four missing tear panel tension loops (two on each).  Ten more minutes
of sewing and it's done.

I'm looking forward to showing it off on the Away 27 launch.


We had an outstanding build session Saturday. Everything is now focused on the Away 27 mission.
Saturday accomplishments:
    Over 40 nylon tie down loops sews on to the launch system. 
    New housing made for the backup controller.
    Primary and backup controller software was modified and tested.
    The big antenna stand was assembled, modified, all the parts checked and packed up for the mission.
    Created a new power harness for the backup controller.

Climb rate chart from Away 26 mission.

The configuration of the Away 27 vehicle is very similar to the Away 26 vehicle. The main differences,
as far as flight dynamics are concerned, are a heaver vehicle and bigger balloons.
Each vehicle flys a
little different. In addition to the basic lift and climb calculations we use flight data from previous similar
missions as a baseline.

On Away 26 we had a maximum ascent rate of 1,300 feet per minute. On Away 27 we want a slower ascent
rate and a
higher peak altitude. The chart below is the Away 26 ascent.
                                     Climb rate chart
There is an interesting jump at 71,000 feet. It looks like an upwelling.

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 September 15, 2006
Email comments
to jpowell@jpaerospace.com
Copyright© 2006 JP Aerospace. All Rights Reserved.