Airborne!

Posted by JonM on 12 May 2008

Saturday started off pretty rough. We rolled into town well past 3:30 in the morning, and woke up again at 8. Frank and company wrangled an awesome breakfast, and then we hit the road. The weather was less than stellar, and we were perhaps a bit optimistic about our chances of launching, but we arrived at the launch site, performed a quick survey, and rapidly set about setting up camp.

There were boxes to be unloaded, shade structures to be set, and masts to be guyed. Everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing, and things got setup in good order. The only real hitch was that our Internet connection wasn't operational. It appears that the AT&T tower near the launch site fell over, and wasn't passing any data or voice. Verizon was unreachable from our hilltop location, as well.

The weather started clearing up, though, so we got the machinery rolling to get MOAR, our attempt at beating the amateur high altitude record, launched.

The clouds may have let up, but the wind sure didn't, and it was quite the challenge to get the balloon filled, but fill it we did. The payload was sealed shut, tied to the balloon, I set the cut down timer to go off in 4 hours, and we released the balloon

The wind took it far and fast, and pretty quickly we were up to 8000 feet, rising at about 600 feet per minute. Then we got a packet from only 5000 feet. Followed by radio silence. The last report was only a couple of miles away, so Adam, EricV and I got in the truck and headed out to search. The last beacon was right in the middle of a 1 mile grid square, so we hiked in and looked around a bit. We couldn't see it, but we could hear it on the radio, so we got back in the truck and drove in on a 4x4 road, hoping to pick up a beacon. Success! We hiked to the coordinate, and found it nestled in the sheared wheat rows, less than 100 feet from where we walked before. MOAR was largely unscathed, despite dropping over 5000 feet and hitting the ground.

A quick inspection revealed that the line was cleanly melted through, indicating that the cutdown timer had gone off prematurely.

We took our prize back to base camp, and packed up for the day. Since it was 5pm already, there was no way we could launch REHAB that day.

Over dinner (thanks again, Frank), we looked at the cutdown timer code again, and discussed options for the next day.

The code revealed a bit of logic I had forgotten about in the year since I first wrote the code: The cutdown timer is set by pressing a button which increments the timeout value in 10 minute increments. After 240 minutes (4 hours), the next press will wrap the timer around to 10 minutes. Apparently in the jostling of the wind, I pressed the button as I was arming the timer, and it cut the payload loose shortly after launch. This was somewhat relieving; at least we know that it's functioning as designed.

After dinner, we worked out a plan for Sunday: We would awake at the crack of dawn to relaunch MOAR, and then two hours later launch REHAB. REHAB was far from complete, so we pared it down to two video cameras, an APRS tracker, and a Digi Xtend modem which would broadcast our GPS coordinates. Three hours later, we had a nearly complete REHAB, including wired components and remolded airframe. We hit the sack shortly after midnight, with our alarms set for 6 in the morning.

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