are the latest happenings at JPA
Photo from the past.
This is just before the launch of Away 6 on October 13, 2000. This vehicle had the highest lift to weight
ratio of anything we've flown.
Two more panels done...
We finished the layout for the voltage and amperage monitoring system for the Away 31 experiment. Time to
breakout the soldering iron and make the prototype board.
For those keeping track, two more panels got hemmed. We've also started adding the long, (224 feet total),
runs of Velcro to the new tear panels.
Robin Snelson has put together a video from Away 29 images. She's put it to music and put it up on YouTube.
It really shows off the sponsor logos, Thanks Robin!
Ironsclad Solutions, Inc. is using their high altitude images from Away 29 on their web site. Check it out!
We've selected the motor and propeller for the Away 31 experiment. We have them all mounted in the inner
structure. On Saturday the team ran RPM/Amperage/Voltage/time tests on the rig. It looks like we'll get ten runs
of the experiment in flight.
We've decided to build a backup balloon bag. While packing the bag in high winds on the Away 27 mission
one of the bags tore. It was an easy fix, but we would have needed to abort the mission if it had happened
before the launch. The team got down to it. Literally, on the floor and cut all eight giant panels. If we can keep
up the pace of two hours of sewing a day the launch bag should be ready in about a month. We now have two
Here's another video with narration added.
Dark Sky Station 1 Launch
I got a bit of a surprise this morning. The front door of our facility was smashed out. There was no break in.
Just somebody with a rock. It's amazing what a large pile of glass one door makes. A few hours later, after a
visit by the glass company, all was well.
It was a sad week for the world. The Yangtze River dolphin is now extinct. The thought makes me look toward
the sky and scan for large yellow bricks.
We're adding narration to the videos. It's a description of what you're seeing. Here's the first three.
Dark Sky Station 2
Floating on the Edge
Props, Motors and Batteries.
Saturday was spent testing battery, propeller and electric motor combinations. Away 31 has a uses a small plasma
pump system. We now have a good idea of the base hardware.
Sunday was again sewing day. These new tear panels for the launch bags are huge. Twenty-eight foot by eleven foot
zippers anyone? I tried to convinced the team that aerospace sewing will even be going on in the 24th century. Picard
is always telling his crew on Star Trek, "Make it Sew".....
I know, I know, it didn't go over all that well with the team either.
We've been doing systems layouts for the Away 31 mission. There will be a lot of data coming down off of this one.
One of the goals of thirty-one is to achieve all weather operations. Rather than dodge the storms this time were looking
for them. We want to launch Away 31 in the biggest, nastiest, Sierra storm we can find. Hopefully with rain and 20 knot+
winds and 100 knot shears. Eventually we will be able to launch Rockoons in weather that will make ground based
vehicles run and hide.
Sewing never ends. We have launch bags for 1200g, 2000g and 3000g balloons. We're now sewing modification to
the big bags so we can launch 4000g balloons. We have some big stuff to fly next year.
More Away 29/30 Pics:
Away 30 Stabilizer PongSats!
Saturday was less building and more planning. We reviewed the general configuration and systems for Away 31.
This is going to be a very interesting mission. We also reviewed and updated the mission plan for 2007 and 2008.
We had to bump a couple of flights back to 2008. The 07 schedule is pretty intense.
Flying with the Sons of the San Joaquin
Music video featuring the Sons of the San Joaquin, the official sponsors of space education and scenes
from the Away 29 and 30 missions.
Homebaked Entertainment uses Away 29 images for their website.
Space Channel Video
Space Channel, IPX Entertainment Inc., has put together a very cool video from Away 29 images.
We're still wrapping up all the post mission work. Between the ad sponsors, PongSat experimenters and
independent payloads nearly sixty packages get sent out. The last dozen are going out today. Then it's on to
the post mission evaluations. We've made all the notes about what went right and what went wrong just
after the flight. Now it's time to capture it all formally so we don't miss anything.
For all you Goggle Earth fans out there here is the KML file of the Away 29 mission.
Away 29 KML
Joey Bakker from the Netherlands sent us his vision for ATO in the future:
It's called the Dual Dolphin. We've put it up on the Art page.
Away 29's flight path through Google Earth:
Saturday we crunched data, folded tarps
and pulled systems off the vehicles. The vehicle structures were
We broke them down, replaced the damaged components then reassembled both. They are destine for Away 32 and 33
missions. The Away 31 plasma drag experiment will have it's own unique structure.
We would like to thank and acknowledge W. David Rust, PhD, Thomas C. Marshall, PhD. for developing the concept of the
bagged balloon launch. These storm researchers really know their stuff and fly in some truly nasty conditions.
Here's some more pics from the missions:
Our last position fix on Away 29 was at 15,000 above the ground heading toward a mountain range. We estimated the
vehicle cleared the range and was in the next valley. We spent the day searching the valley listening for the homing beacon
with no luck. It turns out Away 29 didn't clear the range. We were in the wrong valley. Fortunately a group of hunters were
in the right valley and became JPA Recovery Team One.
A great big thank you to Cole Hatcher, Johnny Hernandez, Jace Billingsley and the photographer and leader of this intrepid band,
Last weekend the team headed for the desert. We flew two missions, Away 29 and 30. It was a great success.
Two flight, one after the other was a great challenge for the team. I'll post more details, pics and video after I've
gotten some sleep.
Morning in the desert.
We took 2460 in flight images.
We carried over 600 PongSat student experiment between the two flights.
A Very Fast Rocket
This was a test of the eight foot spaceflight rocket. The launch box is hanging from a pole instead of balloon for this one.
This rocket really moves!
Remember to click the ads at the
end of the videos, it's keeps us out of the shop and in the air.
Yesterday was rigging day. When you hold a birthday balloon you just have a string tied to the balloon. When you're
hauling cargo to the edge of space it gets more complicated. Lots of nylon line, two different type of D rings, balloon
attachments, swivels, and three different types of knots. Making rigging is one of those things you do when it's quite
and there's nothing to distract you. Both sets, Away 29 and 30, are done and ready for flight.
Speaking of swivels, we were out. I was off to the high altitude research store, (sporting goods store), for more. Unfortunately
the brand we use no one has. I picked up a pack of 200 pound load fishing swivels and it was back to the shop. Most swivels
hold their rated load, however they tend to stop "swiveling" at only
30% of that. As a result we use 200-500 lbs load swivels to
handle 20-30 lbs vehicles. There are parachute swivels that are better, but, they're ridiculously heavy. The swivels were load
tested to three time flight loads, spun, bounced and generally abused for a missions worth of time. They passed.
Note: No fish were harmed in the previously described tests.
The team did some launch training Saturday. We're using two launch bags for this flight. The long tear
panels need to be pulled at the same time. The crew practiced running in short bursts in sync with each other.
All primary systems have been mounted on the vehicles. The antennas, five on each, and all the wiring harnesses
are on. The only thing left to install are the camera. Away 29 gets six still cameras, Away 30 gets one still and
The release containers are finished. They now need to be loaded and insulated. The parachute deck for Away 30
is done and glued in place between the fins. We salvaged the parachute deck from Away 27 and installed it on 29.
The vehicles are starting to look like space probes.
Space Vacuum inside the Ascender
This is just a fun clip we found. Last year when Space Vacuum was filming their rock video inside the Ascender
we were taking some still pics. Apparently the camera was put into video mode for 14 secs.
Saturdays build session
The business of preparing for launch is well underway. The command/control system for Away 30 was completed,
and tested. Camera controllers for six camera array were run through a full duration test. All the ground antennas were
assembled and tuned. They hadn't been tuned in over a year and it was due. Piles of other odd and end were done,
Small thing, but critical to the mission.
There is still a a lot to do, but it's shaping up well.
Pic of the Day
This is the gimbal and rocket launch box from Dark Sky Station Two, (see the video). Here it's mounted
on scaffolding for testing before the flight.
Common architecture is critical to the entire program. ATO will require with tens of thousands of new
components. If this is to happen within my lifetime we must get the unique part count down. The same
parts must be used in lots of places. This counts for the little stuff as well
as the big stuff.
We needed another backup balloon release
controller to use on Away 30. It's one of about a dozen unique
controllers we use. Instead of replication the existing unit we used we got out another flight controller 5.
We designed and started using this new controller motherboard on Away 24. It's used as a telemetry command
controller on the rockets, airships, and Away missions. We've presses it into service as a sensor controller
and an experiment manager. Now, it a backup balloon release controller too.
We're now using this general board in seven different system. It's cheaper to replicate many copies of the same
thing. It's easier to troubleshoot, and upgrades are easier to flight qualify.
It also had the supreme benefit of getting me out of building another board....
Sometimes it's the little parts that make all the difference. Today was spent making balloon inserts. These are small carbon
pieces that go inside the balloon. They make it so a single
person can fill a balloon hands free. Without the insert filling big
balloons takes two people and can be a lot of work. We started using them about five years ago. The are only two problems.
You loose them on each flight and they're a pain to make. Today we made five, three to use and two spares.
There are so many little details, like the inserts, that go into a
flight. The hard part is separating the true tricks of the trade
from the gimmicks. The only way I know is to build a lot and fly a lot.
The video page has a new look and more videos.
We're really going after the weight on Away 29 and 30. The parachutes, at 13 ounces, were starting to look like a
target. The parachutes we use also serve on the rockets. They can open at near mach without damage. On balloon flights
the loads are much smaller. New patterns were made, panels cut and it was back to the sewing machine. The new parachutes
weigh in at 4.7 ounces each.
K'John tackled the Feng Shui of the flight controller. Everything fit into the original housing without any changes to the
wiring harness. Both K'John and the controller must be one with the universe.
Work continued on the balloon release units. We're building three identical ones for the upcoming flight. This is a pretty
critical system. Anyone can get to high altitude, the art is getting down. On the Away 4 mission we got stuck at 109,000
feet. It was a combination of release system failures. On the last communication the vehicle it was still at 109,000 feet,
600 miles out over the Pacific ocean. It was heading West at 200 knots. Ever since then we've paid A LOT of attention
to "getting down".
Balloon Configuration: (2) 2000g balloons
Vehicle Weight: 17 pounds
Climb Rate: 1000 feet per minute
Peak Altitude: 100,000 feet
The software modifications for the controllers are complete. The new parts make it a tight fit. It can only
be rearranged so much due to the wiring harness. Feng Shui anyone? It
maybe time to make a new insulated box.
Dark Sky Station Two liftoff, the on-board camera.
And remember to click the ads at the
end of the video, it's really helps keep us in the air.
DSS 2 really leaped off the ground. This camera was looking down at liftoff. You can see the rocket launch box
swinging on it's gimbal. In the lower center is a reflective ball. In it you can see the balloons.
To save weight, we're flying without the backup tracking system. We're running both 29 and 30 this way.We still
want a secondary source of position data. To get it, we've added a GPS to the primary controller. The hardware
and software modifications are done for reading and transmitting the GPS data. One more software mod to go.
We want the controller to transmit position every five minutes, even if it isn't asked for. This makes a very robust
system. It can take multiple failures and still accomplish the mission. The vehicle could lose uplink and the primary tracking
system, and we would still know where it was. There is a beacon, however our mission rules require an abort if we were
on beacon only for tracking.
I've been watching the new Battlestar Galactica on DVD. I really enjoy it, but I've got to tell you....
Nothing is as much fun as working on the real stuff.
The Future: Docking with the Dark Sky Station
This beautiful animation was made by Homebaked Entertainment.
Today was GPS Tracking systems day. Units for both Away 29 and 30 were assembled, mounted in
flight housing and tested. They will get one more checkout during the full up preflight test.
It was also battery day. The flight lithium polymers were all discharged and recharged. The battery charging
battery, (a big lead acid) was cycled and the van system batteries got the same treatment.
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page was last edited on December 22, 2006
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