Build A Little – Test A Little: Away 24

Purpose & Equipment:

Away 24 was flown to test some new electronics we designed and built for an airship we are building for the US Air Force.  The hardware was so new; the solder had only just cooled on some of the parts the night before the flight.  We recently split the hardware responsible for basic telemetry from the systems responsible for command and control, so we had to test the new devices and the architecture of our on-board network.  We don’t have fancy test chambers where near vacuum and cold temperatures can be created, so we fly our equipment in the real environment at 30km and find out whether we did it right or not.

We flew the following equipment.

Primary Controller
    [One transceiver, one TNC, one Basic Stamp all hooked to the command bus]
Two Stinger Units
    [One transceiver, one TNC, and one GPS receiver down linking location telemetry]
Mini-Beacon
    [One simple, low power CW transmitter with a long duration battery]
Digital camera
    [One cheap digital camera, one Basic Stamp hooked to the command bus]
Pump Motor Assembly
    [One small, electric motor, one pump propeller, one Basic Stamp hooked to the command bus]
Hand held video camera
    [Off the shelf video camera with a two-hour tape]
Still camera
    [Off the shelf still camera with a a large roll of film]
PongSat payload container
    [64 student payloads that fit inside table tennis balls]

Not listed are bits and pieces that enable us to perform our flights safely and reliably like parachutes, pyrotechnics, independent cut-down timers and so on.  These parts are just as important to anyone wanting to get their equipment back and not hurt anyone downrange.

Accomplishments:

Preflight preparations went smoothly with the balloon fill team getting the balloon ready, attached, and filled fairly quickly.  One minor glitch marred an otherwise perfect preflight preparation for the electronics team when it was discovered during the checklist tests that we did not have command of the pyrotechnics units used for releasing the balloon from the bridle.  After a short delay, an improvisation was arranged and the checklist testing resumed.  A few minutes later, the balloon was released and the package began its slow, methodical ascent into the stratosphere.

Test results follow.

Primary Controller
    [It worked flawlessly.  No glitches were observed.  When it was found almost 30 hours later it was sill running.]
Two Stinger Units
    [Both worked flawlessly.  We knew where Away 24 was at all times.]
Mini-Beacon
    [It worked flawlessly and has for a long time.]
Digital camera
    [The device did not record any pictures.  We think the Lithium battery was a dud.  Many others we purchased in the same batch proved to be duds.  We also found the Stamp controller behaved erratically starting at about 15km.  This was due to a dud battery or a cold one since that is about the altitude where the cold begins to soak in.  A heater unit attached to this battery in the future and good testing will eliminate the problem.]
Pump Motor Assembly
    [The pump motor worked well.  The Stamp Controller failed around 20km.  We think this failure involved the same two possibilities as the one for the digital camera.  Both possibilities are easy to defeat and are unlikely to occur again.]
Hand held video camera
    [Recording stopped at about 10km.  This particular unit has been through several hours of previous flights, so it has hit the ground at about 50 kph a number of times.  That it still works is a near miracle.  We think it deserves a well-earned retirement and intend to replace it with another workhorse on the next flight.]
Still camera
    [I don’t know if this one worked yet.  Sometimes batteries get cold and sometimes they don’t.]
PongSat payload container
    [We flew them all and recovered them all.]

The vehicle ascended at about 275 meters per minute and reached 30,637 meters in altitude when the balloon burst.  The lowest temperature suffered was around 215K where some of our batteries finally failed.  Recovery was accomplished late on the next day because many of the roads in northern Nevada (especially Pershing County) are impassable during the day when the ice melts to create a lot of mud.  We usually prefer to recover our equipment during the daylight hours, but had to settle for walking off the desert after dark while dodging the curious and hungry wolves out there.

What’s next?

Our next flight should be the full airship as we have run out of time and equipment to test before the full event.  We plan to fly the NSMV (Near Space Maneuvering Vehicle) at the West Texas Spaceport in late February if the weather cooperates.  We will be shipping it all to Ft Stockton from Sacramento in a few days, so we are down to the final days of the multi-month project.

We have other events scheduled involving rocket and airship flights from Ft Stockton, Texas and Gerlach, Nevada.  If you want to keep up on the details, come check us out and others like us at Frontier Files Online.

2 thoughts on “Build A Little – Test A Little: Away 24”

  1. I had no idea that all of this is going on in and around Sacramento. I live near by and would love to come and see one of the launches. Do you post your events in the newspaper? If not, it might be a good idea to. That is one of the best ways to work up a little awareness.

    Anyway, thanks for posting to sciscoop! You now have me very interested in rocket science and engineering. Please submit any future events or breakthroughs to sciscoop for us to learn about.

  2. We tend to rely upon local media for local publicity.  If they think we are doing anything interesting when we give them announcements, they say so.

    If you want to drop by and see what is going on, the only real danger to you is that we might try to give you something to do.  It’s a dirty business, so don’t come dressed in fancy clothes.

    Rocket launches have been in Texas lately, so you’d see the balloon operations unless you were ready to travel a lot.  The rockets are here at the shop, though.8)

    We are at building 704 (big, unpainted hangar) at McClellan Park for a few more days.  Bldg 704 is on the west side of the runway where few buildings are leased out yet.  I’m about to head out there now to work on the airship’s truss structure.  After the first week of February, we will have moved back to our shop in Rancho Cordova.

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