Thursday March 25, we took SpeedBall-1 to the brink of flight, and it kicked and screamed all the way to the launch pad. This was the first launch attempt by the White Star team, and they performed fantastically. We are correcting the issues and will be attempting a launch again shortly!
We encountered a slew of problems, but through our months of training and planning, we already knew our options and flight impact associated with each hiccup we ran into. The massive communications infrastructure we laid out was revealed to those of you who watched on ustream, and facilitated our preparation and troubleshooting phenomenally well. I’ll detail our cool worldwide voice and video comm systems in another post though.
A ton of things went well, but the exciting bits are always the gory failures, so here they are!
This past weekend, we found a rare quiet 20 minutes in the hackerspace, before the day’s Mission Control simulation started. I took the opportunity to throw together a little video peek for you all, to see how we’re doing. I had no time for retakes, so it’s dirty, but you will get the peek you’ve been waiting for. It’s 10 minutes long, but as Brad said, “I think we’ve done at least ten minutes worth of work in the last month or two!” Take a look. (Read on after the vid)
With such a complicated system, the only we know that everything works together is to test it, all together. Gary made a GPS simulator to act like a real gps to our flight computer, but actually replay a predefined balloon flight. Since the balloon robot makes all it’s decisions based on the GPS and our commands from Mission Control, we can make the balloon perform like it’s really flying.
So for the last two weeks we’ve been doing just that. It’s been a lot of work, and every night we run a full simulated flight, and every night we discover another problem somewhere. They’re all being fixed, but we’re running out of time. Luckily (or unluckily) the jet stream winds are not very good for the next few days, so we’re not missing anything.
SB-1 will not be launching this weekend. It turns out that our most significant competition, Cornell University’s tight-lipped Project Blue Horizon, may not try to cross the Atlantic until sometime in April, removing pressure to beat them to Europe this weekend. Also, the Jet Stream wasn’t that great for this Sunday, and the on-the-ground weather was even worse for launching a balloon.
SpeedBall-1 could have flown just fine this weekend, however, there’s significant parts of the telemetry pipeline, a long convoluted series of data transfers, that haven’t been tested very much. This will give us some much needed time to make sure that a silly mistake doesn’t doom our precious robot pilot to a watery grave. Continue reading →
White Star’s SpeedBall-1 flight and ground systems are are expected to be ready to fly within 2 days.
This flight is no longer a test flight, but a full trans-atlantic crossing attempt. That means we’ll likely be inserting it into the very next Jet Stream trans-atlantic crossing opportunity that occurs. We’re targeting <36h crossings, but the payload is designed to >72hr longevity in the air, so we may take a longer crossing if needed.
Launch will occur around 8PM Eastern Time from Space Port Indiana, in Columbus IN. SpacePort Indiana has graciously arranged for PraxAir to donate all helium for trans-atlantic attempts free of charge.
Launch Date will be announced 2-4 days in advance of the Jet Stream’s arrival. Please sign up for launch notification on our main home page to be sure you don’t miss it – http://www.whitestarballoon.org on the right side.