Monday, October 17, 2011

Weekend Update - BALLS! (the rocket launch)

Hello All!  As promised, I'm chugging along at uploading photos!  So - here's my post about Balls!

Unfortunately, we didn't get to launch Traveler since we didn't get the necessary FAA waiver.  However, we did get some valuable avionics testing done.  And, best of all, Daddy was there to help out!  In a super last-minute decision, dad decided to forgo LSU homecoming (the game time-change really threw a lot of plans out of whack), fly to Reno, and drive out to the desert to see Traveler!  It turned out to be awesome having dad there because he helped us with all of our set up since he has so much more experience with radios and antennas than we do.  We also exposed some shortcomings in our system which was definitely good to know.  For instance, one of our commercial systems that we are using for avionics we had connected to the battery pack without a voltage regulator unintentionally frying the electronics (oops).  Thankfully though, this was a mistake we made turning a testing weekend instead of a launch weekend.  We also learned how to properly set up all the antennas and gained experience communicating via radio.  Since there is no cell phone service on the playa, this is one situation in which ham radio is really the only way you can communicate (and I'm not just saying this to make dad happy!).

Another unique thing about this year's Balls was the number of parents who attended!  Dad definitely wasn't the only one who wanted to see Traveler!  In total, we had one mom and four dads in attendance.  Normally, Saturday night we would go into Gerlach to get dinner at Bruno's (pretty much the only restaurant within 50 miles of the launch site) but instead this year Matt's parents (super pro-USC tailgaters) brought out their tailgating gear and cooked us dinner on the playa!

As always, Balls was so much fun and watching all the other launches was as exciting as ever.  In case you're wondering what kind of high power rocket launches happen at balls, check out this video of the Qu8k rocket which was launching for the Carmack prize.

So yeah, there's some pretty serious stuff happening at Balls!  Unfortunately, this launch happened on Friday and we didn't get there until late Friday night so we missed the launch.  We got to see some other awesome launches though.  Most notably, MIT's pathetic Carmack attempt.  It was seriously hilarious.  They decided to make a 3 stage rocket (I mean seriously, who does that?  Oh right, people trying to put satellites into orbit.  3 stage is completely ridiculous for reaching 100,000 ft).  Anyway, their first stage fired nicely, then their second stage fired horizontally, then their third stage fired itself back into the ground (hahaha).  We were all pissed off though because the reason we didn't get the FAA waiver is because our dispersion pattern covered too large of an area (we're expecting our rocket to land somewhere within a 50 mile radius from where we launch it) but a 3 stage rocket like MIT's has a crazy huge dispersion area.  The only reason MIT didn't have to apply for a waiver is because they were under the standard 150,000ft Balls waiver.  It's okay though, Rocket Lab definitely learned a lot about how to work through the bureaucracy and when we are ready to apply for our next wavier the process should go much more smoothly.

Getting ready to drive Traveler out to the desert:

Our set up!

The desert view.  I wish I had a nice camera and tripod set up so I could get a good shot of the night sky.  It's one of the most beautiful views of the sky in the world.  It would be amazing to get a time-lapse photo of the moon traveling across the sky - it's one of those things that you just don't really get to see when you live in the city!

We put a Traveler golf cover on Traveler! haha

The avionics team!  Left to right, me, Martin, Miles, Quincy, and Aaron.

Standing with the 900MHz receiver.

Getting Traveler set up in the launch tower.  That was another one of the useful things we got practice with - setting up the launch tower.  After welding over a ton (the literal ton - 2000lbs!) of steel in the lab - this was our first actual set up of the launch tower.

The avionics test team.  We went up to one of the hills to try and get a better location for receiving signals.  I'm inside the car working the laptop for receiving packets while Megan, Matt and Vivian are outside with the antenna.

Unfortunately, a huge dust storm hit right as we were heading out to do the avionics testing.  As we were driving out to the hills, we ended up having to drive straight through it and spent about half an hour at a complete loss of all radio contact.  On top of that, it was near white-out condition and we could hardly see 10 feet ahead of us!  It was definitely scary conditions to be driving in.  I was glad dad was at the wheel!  Once we finally got out of the storm and up on a hill, we snapped this shot of the launch site.

When we finally got back to the campsite, the effects of the dust storm were clearly visible.

That didn't stop us from getting the traditional group shot though! (For scaling - remember that I am 6ft tall!)

Dad and I with the launch tower

One of the best parts of Balls is burning off extra propellant!  Here I am holding a piece about to toss it into the fire.

It looks so pretty when it burns!

Great shot of Daddy and I out on the playa before heading home!

Anywho, that's it for Balls!  Next up - Big Bear!

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