Monday, December 31, 2012

BARREL Status Report #5

BARREL Status Report #5
December 31, 2012

Today we had our Flight Readiness Review and got the green light to start launching! Both teams now have one payload ready to launch. The SANAE team was hoping to launch this afternoon, and completed their launch brief and preparations. But the wind picked up and was projected to get worse. So, we have scrubbed for today. Tomorrow looks like a possibility for both launch sites. We are going to re-assess the weather in the morning (UTC) and send out an update then.

Here's Nick wishing you a Happy New Year!!


Alexa Here, as I've kicked my fiancé out of the room for our daily telecon, just want to wish him Happy B-day and thanks for being patient with all these meetings!  

Quick updates before the daily telecom

We just heard from Sanae

Hi all, 

John and Brett have regained internet access but have lost wind conditions suitable for launch, so we are scrubbed for the evening. The weather report for tomorrow at 1300-1900 looks great for launch from SANAE (and Halley also looks good in a similar time range).


Today is our first daily telecon and hopefully we will have good news within the hour!

From Robyn this morning... 
Quick update. John and Brett have no internet right now, but are still planning to launch payload 1J around 1700 UT (9AM Pacific) today. Halley is going to act as their initial ground station until the payload reaches float altitude. [This means that we wont see it on the soc right away. ] They will not be able to communicate with anyone easily for a while since their launch site is pretty far from the station. So, we at Halley will be doing the communicating (we'll be on the Iridium phone with John and Brett).

I'll send out an email and update the wiki as soon as I know they've launched or scrubbed. It will take about an hour to reach float altitude at which point we'll want to hand it off to UCSC so everyone can see the data through the SOC.


Right before sending this I've checked the Wiki and soc and I didn't see 1J up yet, but hopefully by the meeting time I'll have more information. I'll update the blog as we know more.  

Currently as you may have guessed the ground weather is good. 

According to 
Solar wind speed ~ 368 km/s
Solar wind density ~ 2 protons/cm^3
Current sunspot number 37
Planetary K index = 0 with a 24 max of 2
Bz is 1.3 nT in the northward direction
Btotal is 2.8 nT

There is very little chance of a flare in the next 0 - 48 hours.

It is quiet on all fronts.

Talk to you all soon, 


Sunday, December 30, 2012

BARREL Status Report #4

BARREL Status Report #4
December 30, 2012

Today, the Halley VI team assembled Payload 1D into flight
configuration and started to test Payload 1I. We still had cloudy and
very windy weather all day, so weren't able to get outside with a
payload. So, while waiting for the sun to appear, we reviewed our
launch procedures and did some more testing with UC Santa Cruz. We are
still looking at Tuesday, January 1 as a possible launch date. I also
gave a science talk at Halley tonight. Everyone is excited about a
possible launch!

The SANAE IV team has finished assembling and testing Payload 1J
indoors, and is nearly done with the final assembly as of dinner time.
This evening they will be buttoning up the payload and taking it
outdoors for a Comprehensive Performance Test (CPT) as well as getting
the launch equipment and helium manifolds situated in place at the
launch location.  We anticipate good weather, so contingent on passing
our Flight Readiness Review tomorrow, we are planning on our first
SANAE IV launch.  The launch would occur at or after 1700 UT (0900
PST) on Monday, December 31, 2012. Yes, that is New Year's Eve!  Stay


As an aside, if you have been looking at our soc you may have notice that it looks like some payloads are up. These are all just testing of payloads and the soc itself. No payloads have been launched yet. 

Enjoy these last few days of 2012! 


Saturday, December 29, 2012

BARREL Status update #3

BARREL Status Report #3
December 29, 2012

Halley VI:  Payload 1B was assembled into flight configuration
(handles and upper solar panel mounts attached, cables all routed and
taped down). We were waiting for the sun to come out all day so we
could take the payload outside and test it with the solar panels, but
it stayed cloudy.  So, in the meantime, we completed bench testing of
Payload 1D and assembled the solar panel mounts.  We also load tested
all the terminate batteries, completed leak testing of the helium
inflation system, and did some ground station testing with UC Santa
Cruz. With Warren working on that end, we were able to successfully
test four ground station computers which each of four ground station

We also had our first fire alarm at the station, and wouldn't you know
it - my boots and jacket were on the other end of the building.
Luckily, it was a false alarm! My boots are now right across the hall
- I don't particularly want to walk out in the snow in socks.

SANAE IV:  I only got an update from the SANAE team this morning so
don't have a full report for the day. They tested their helium
inflation system. They also gave an overview of the system to 5 of the
SANSA students and 3 of the previous wintering team members. They were
also load testing terminate batteries and starting to check out their
first payload. We are still neck and neck!

A comment about these status reports: because we have really slow
internet and are quite busy, these status reports are serving multiple
groups of people simultaneously, including BARREL team members.
Therefore, they may include more detail than you want!  I apologize in
advance, but we are doing the best we can to communicate with limited

Weather outlook: Tuesday, Jan. 1 is still looking good at Halley VI as
far as winds go. If it is as calm as predicted, we will attempt our
first launch. Stay tuned - the forecast models will get better as we
get closer to Tuesday.


 BARREL cargo being offloaded from the RRS Ernest Shackleton

 Cargo being transported to Halley VI about 40km away
(and a 3.5 hour trip!)

BARREL cargo being lifted onto the station at Halley VI

Iridium antennas being installed on the roof of Halley VI

Friday, December 28, 2012

BARREL Status update #2

BARREL Status Report #2
December 28, 2012

It was another productive day down south.

The SANAE team got the rest of their cargo and were setting up their
workspace, expecting to start checking out the first payload today or

The Halley team got the Iridium antennas mounted on the roof and
finished the bench checkout of Payload 1B. Next step (tomorrow) is a
full system test outside with solar panels. We were also able to get
our helium inflation system set up and will be checking it out more

In addition, we had our ATP review today and received the authority to
proceed with operations from NASA/BPO. We still need to complete a
Flight Readiness Review before the first launch and that is schedule
for Monday.

Weather is deteriorating a bit, but we are still looking at Monday
evening as a possibility.


1st BARREL Status Update! Here we go...

Hello from Antarctica! This is the first of daily status reports that I will send out from the BARREL team. This email was supposed to go out last night so this is yesterday's report. Internet is still not perfect here, but I will be trying to get these out each evening UTC.

BARREL Status Report #1
December 27, 2012

Our Halley team arrived at Halley VI in the evening of December 26th and got all cargo in the morning of the 27th. Today, we unpacked, had our electrical equipment checked out/ok'd by the base, set up our working space, and have the first payload out (1B) and ready for testing.

The SANAE team also arrived on station the evening of December 26! All of the cargo has arrived at the base (including squibs, but excepting the new batch of helium quads).  We are currently unpacking the sensitive-flight cargo and have installed both Iridium antennas on the roof.  We'll gain access to the remainder of our cargo Friday, though unpacking it and bringing it to the base may take a while as it's a ways away and lots of other groups' cargo needs to be unloaded first.    We have the core of Payload 1J inside already and we will get it up and running on the bench today and tomorrow.

Both teams should have a payload ready to fly on Sunday (it's a race!) and will do some dry run launch practice. The flight readiness review is scheduled for Monday.

MOC updates - The Dartmouth backup MOC is now totally up and running and on backup generator outlet.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Good news, Both Teams are at their bases!

Good news everyone, both teams are at their bases! Hopefully we'll be having updates on the blog from both teams soon. I'm hoping for photos!

The Halley team (Robyn, Karl, and Nick) have arrived as stated before, and now have all their cargo off loaded. They plan on starting to get their first payload ready tomorrow, well it's probably today down there at the moment.

The Sanae team (Brett and John) also arrived as did some of their cargo. They also plan to start unpacking and getting their payloads ready soon.

It sounds like our flight ready review (FRR) will now be held on Monday the 31st of Dec. which means we could potentially have the first flight on January 1st if the FRR goes well and the weather is in our favour.

If you want to see where the Van Allen Probes will be at these time I've made Google Earth (KML) files with the southern magnetic field line foot prints of the two satellites. The files are available at I've included some of the previous balloon flights from our group as a reference before our balloons are launched. There is also a file with the positions of some Antarctic stations. If you would like me to include more, just leave their names, the websites for their data and/or the station, and their latitudes and longitudes.

Have a great night!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Team Halley Bay at Halley Bay

It sounds like the Team going to Halley Bay is off the boat, unloaded, and now at Halley Bay! I hope they are all settled in and in the mean time we can view the webcam at the station. It looks pretty white out there. I don't see any penguins out there.

Happy Boxing Day!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Windy Creek

One last update from the Shackleton!

The weather has been exceedingly good to us, with thin sea ice and patches of open water to jump between.  We've managed very nearly 10 knots, and arrived at the Halley creeks late yesterday, well ahead of schedule.  It being Christmas Eve, we just scouted two of the possible landing sites, and then headed a little ways away to 'Windy Creek' to overnight and celebrate Christmas.  We'll return to our chosen landing site (N-9) tonight, transfer personnel to the base tomorrow, and begin offloading cargo on Thursday. 

Things I saw yesterday: the Antarctic continent, about a dozen big seals, and several hundred penguins.  Things I did today: ate a wonderful big meal, and went ashore.  See below!


Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas/ Happy Holidays

I hope this Holiday Season is filled with short telecons, long periods of geo-effective solar storms followed by short but clearly quiet days, long nights with auroras, and well working satellites, payloads, ground stations, socs, and mocs. Hopefully Santa will bring us lots of good conjunctions with clear microburst signatures!

Happy Holidays from the BARREL team!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Shackleton & Agulhas II Updates

Another update from the Shackleton, but this time with pictures!

We're still at sea, and entered the edge of the icepack two nights ago.  Saw our first icebergs on the 17th, and also passed by Bouvet Island.  Bouvet was an interesting sight to behold: the first land we'd seen in a week, but small, remote, and very uninhabited.  And for good reason: it's a volcanic island located at the very southern end of the mid-Atlantic ridge, and is 93% covered with glacier.  The Norwegians have an unmanned weather station there.  The waters around it are apparently quite rich, and Bouvetøya is home to tons of nesting seabirds (apparently some seals and walruses too, but we didn't see those).  We'd enjoyed the company of a couple albatrosses and petrels on the journey down from Cape Town, but the skies around Bouvet are teeming with seabirds of all sizes.   

Continuing south, we've entered an area of exceedingly calm water.  It helps that we missed a big storm system in its entirety, but it feels like we're on a lake.  The crew decided to exercise the lifeboats, which involved lowering them into the water, firing up their engines, and running laps around the ship for a bit.  The sea ice is still sparse enough that this was a good place to do it.  The operation looked fun!  Also: penguins!

Port side lifeboat, coming back for recovery.
Thinly distributed first year sea-ice.

Chin-strap penguins playing near the lifeboats.

Finally, a quick update from the SANAE crew: following some unexpected difficulty with the last bit of sea ice, they're unloading.  From Brett (yesterday night):

Most of our BARREL cargo got off-loaded today onto the ice shelf!  Progress!  Another science team has "priority" cargo in the container, so it'll be in the first set of containers to reach SANAE IV.  Off-loading operations seem to be going well, though I do not know how soon we'll be finished. [...] We've had a lot of penguins out today!  I'm glad to finally see penguins in Antarctica, on my third trip down!
 And that's all for now!

Monday, December 17, 2012

An Old Launch Video

***UP DATE*****
The Sanae Team is stuck in the ice! So my prediction of " in a week or so" was off. We hope that they get unstuck soon and still hope to have our first launch around the 27th of Dec 2012.

We're getting close! From Karl's post it sounds like we could be launching our first balloon for this campaign in a week or so. The guys are likely settling in, making sure everything arrived safely, and building back up the payloads. Soon they will be ready to launch. And with that here is an old launch video. Hopefully soon we'll have more and photos and videos from the ice as well!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Update from Sea

Update from the RRS Shackleton, on limited bandwidth (so no pictures, sorry!)

Making good time over relatively calm seas these past couple days, probably averaging a bit less than 10 knots overall.  Our position is currently 49 degrees  43.7' S and 8 degrees 20.5' E, and we're on a course to intercept the Prime Meridian near 60 degrees South (I think).

Somebody spotted whales off in the distance on Thursday, which led to the rest of us camping out on deck for the next two hours.  Quite the show, as we encountered at least a half-dozen groups (of approximately a dozen individuals each).  The majority of these groups were breaching in the distance, and visible only from their waterspouts, but a couple were closer, and one group came within 150 meters or so of the ship. Spectacular! 

As if that weren't enough, Thursday also saw clear skies at night, for an excellent viewing of the Geminids meteor shower.  Ships lights are dimmed at night, and there was no moon, so we had very decent viewing from the monkey deck (atop the bridge).  Counted a respectable number of meteors, among which perhaps 4 or 5 produced long trails spanning half the night sky.  Very impressive.

Life aboard ship is a little slow, with breakfast, lunch, and dinner being the highlights of my day.  We each take a turn helping out with ship chores-- Nick and I were on Gash* duty Friday morning, washing dishes and peeling a mountain of potatoes.  I think it's Robyn's turn today.  Air and water temperatures are gradually getting cooler, probably a good thing if we ever expect to hit the icepack.  Should be another couple days before we see an iceberg though, and many more days as we weave our way through to Halley.

And speaking of icepacks and arrivals, we heard from Brett and John aboard the SA Agulhas II yesterday-- they've essentially arrived already!!  They're due to begin unloading the ship today, and expect to be on base (at SANAE) as early as Tuesday.  That's FAR ahead of schedule, and with any luck, gives us a chance of having a first flight before Christmas.  Exciting!

Breakfast time, so I'm off.  Cheers!

Friday, December 14, 2012

More space music videos

So I think we need a new NASA TV Channel called SMTV, space music TV. Here are my two picks for favourite space music for the week;

First up we have the NASA Johnson Style

Then we can take a trip back to 1989 with ISS Baby

But perhaps my favourite if only because it's actual sounds from space recorded by the Van Allen Probes, "Alien birds" better known as chorus waves.  Now all they need to do is to put it into a club music mix! If anyone out there does this, or has already done that please let me know! That would be just so cool!


Nerd Nite East Bay

Last night was a blast! Hopefully soon we'll have video and you can all laugh at me. I did get one of the biggest groans I've ever heard at one of my jokes. I thought it was funny, but I wont ruin the surprise for you. The other two talks were fantastic as well.

I hope you all have had a great week. Tomorrow I head back East and back to the grind stone. We're just getting everything ready for the launch. We haven't heard too much from the teams heading to the ice, but I'm hoping for some great photos once they get there!

Have a great weekend!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bon Voyage and The last of AGU

*************** Up Date*********************
The Boat has been delayed for the day and has been re-scheduled to depart tomorrow (Dec. 11th) at 8am in the morning. Enjoy the extra day on land everyone! 

As you may have seen in Robyn's post, today the team going to Halley Bay leaves port! (They have some much better photos so make sure to read Robyn's post!)

Safe travels to all on board. I hope this "break" gives everyone time to get work done, read some papers, maybe write some papers, and just relax before the mission starts. It's only a couple weeks away!  I can't believe that it's almost here.

You can track where the RRS Ernest Shackleton is on this website. Currently they are set to arrive at Halley Bay on the 29th of December. I hope Santa can find them while they are out at sea.

My flight left early on the Friday of AGU so I took the time to chat with the google earth guys a bit. Hopefully I'll have some great KML files to share with everyone in the near future. Right now they are a bit big and bulky.

Have a great week everyone!

All Aboard!

Our arrival on the RRS Ernest Shackleton

This is a good view of the bridge.

Nick, Karl, and I joined the RRS Ernest Shackleton on Saturday morning. We will be leaving Cape Town in a few hours, headed south! If we can make 10 knots for a little while, we could reach Halley early, around December 22. But, it all depends on the weather and ice conditions. We'll try to keep you posted. There is internet on the ship, but it is quite slow so we probably won't be posting many pictures for a few weeks.

Friday, December 7, 2012

AGU Day 4

Second to last day of AGU and another busy one, at least for me. Lots of great talks on the radiation belts. Leslie did an amazing job stepping in to give Robyn's talk. Robyn left last night to fly to South Africa to catch the boat to the Antarctic.

I talked a bit with Chris Cully about BARREL conjunctions with Themis. Every one seems to be really excited about getting BARREL data and it's just an incredibly fun time!

Speaking of fun times. Although we didn't all meet up, quiet a few of us from the BARREL team made it to the Night at the Museum at the California Academy of the Sciences. We think this might have to become an annual AGU thing. It's amazing.

We'll hopefully have some better pictures soon, but these will have to do for now. They have the coolest jelly fish and sea dragons (?) as well as amazing extra activities at Night Life. This week they had a string quartet that played queen (Bohemian Rapacity and everyone tried to sing along) as well as a a few other classics including white rabbit and the pink panther.  It's well worth the $12.00 admission!

Tomorrow it' back to work before flying home. I hope everyone has had a productive an AGU!

Have a good night!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

SA Agulhas II departs Cape Town for SANAE

Interrupting Alexa's coverage of AGU to announce that our SANAE team (John and Brett) left Cape Town today, aboard the S.A. Agulhas II as it sails south for SANAE!  Departure was on time, and Nick and I snagged some pictures as the Agulhus II pushed back from the wharf.

Brett on high, waving hello and goodbye!
S.A. Agulhus II, as it pushes back from the pier.
S.A. Agulhus II, in profile (with Table Mtn in the background).

I should make mention that the S.A. Agulhus II is brand new, and is apparently the envy of the Arctic/Antarctic research community right now.  There's a fantastic page about it on the South African National Antarctic Programme's website, complete with links for tracking info, ship layout, and additional resources. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

AGU Day 3: Van Allen Lecture

Today was Leslie's, Zan's and my posters. No pictures of us at our posters sorry, I was too busy, but I promise to try to get our posters will be uploaded at sometime in the near future.

The Burst meeting was great! I'm very excited to see how the results from our conjunctions with the Van Allen Probes! Interesting science is on it's way.

I finally made it to the expo room and the NASA booth. They had the balloon guys there with a great display and a lot of fun articles/toys.

Perhaps the highlight today was Dan Baker's Van Allen Talk. It's always interesting to listen to him describe how all of our science relates to everyday life. He is a master of transitioning from hard core physics to space policy. 

Only two day's left at AGU. I can't believe the week is almost over. The boys are getting on the ship to Sanae tomorrow and the other crew leave on the 10th. You can follow their boat's website and blog here. We're committed now. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

AGU day 2- the Press Conference

Good Morning, bright and early today we have the Van Allen Probe Press Conference. This is the first time I've gone to a science press conference and it's actually really interesting. It's somewhere between a general science talk and a news report. I have to say, it's very weird to see some of these guys all dressed up in suits and ties. Scientists tend to be more relaxed, not always, but it's quiet common to see the most distinguished scientist in a group in jeans, old sneakers, and a t-shirt. Anyway, back to the science. The AGU has a live web stream of the different press conferences, but I'm not sure if they have the videos up for all the previous press conferences. They do have PDFs of all the ones so far which can be found here.

Of course one of the highlights was when they played the Chorus waves recorded from the probes. If you want to see/hear more visit the Iowa website! They have a whole bunch of "Sounds Of The Magnetosphere". Dan Baker may have had the really pretty movies, but Craig Kletzing seems to have gotten the most questions because of these wonderful "alien birds"

Day 2 is off to a good start. And now it's time to find some more coffee!

Sorry for the bad photos, not that great of light... or perhaps it's the photographer.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Day 1 of Fall 2012 AGU wrap up

Today was a great start. Warren did a great job at his poster. He's been working hard on getting our soc (The computer and website where anyone can find our data) up and running. Tomorrow is our Burst meeting with the Van Allen Probes Teams at the Thirsty Bear at either 4:00 or 5:00. As the start time is not set yet, I suggest getting there at 4:00 and then letting the rest of us know what is the best beer on tap there.

I hope you all are having a great AGU meeting as well! 

The first day of AGU

Today is the first day of AGU! Warren, one of BARREL's students has his poster this afternoon. Good luck Warren! I'm sure you won't need it.

 Tomorrow we'll have a meeting with many of the teams of the Van Allen Probes to help coordinate burst data during our conjunction times. One of the big goals of this mission is to see how these space weather events look both in space as well as on the ground (the balloons are considered on the ground for all intents and purposes. Compared to the location of the satellites, the balloons are just off the surface of the earth.). The satellites will give us data about the waves observed as well as what particles are found at a given location. The balloons will give us information about how many of these particles have been pushed out of the magnetosphere and lost to the ionosphere/atmosphere. This is an incredibly important part of the problem which will help us better understand the variability of the radiation belts. If you haven't seen the amazing Rad Belt music video I highly suggest it. I've been told by an authority on the matter that it is quiet possibly the nerdiest music video out there.

Yesterday's mini GEM, while packed and Robyn and I both being over booked, was incredibly informative and useful. Now that the Van Allen Probes have been up and running for a few months everyone is excited about all this new data. In fact some said that they were drowning in it. The amount we have learned about our Earth-Space system in just the last two months has been astounding and we still have a couple years left in the main phase of the mission!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

On the road to AGU

The road to AGU for me started at 11:00 this morning and I'll be taking trains planes and automobiles, oh and a bus. Currently I'm stuck at the airport watching all the flights before mine getting delayed. I'm just hoping mine won't be next. However, this extra time at the airpot has given me the chance to finish up our new pamphlet! I may be biased, but I think it's wonderful. I'm hoping that the links work, so let me know. If they don't I'll add them to the bottom of this post.

Safe travels and for those of you staying back in Hanover, enjoy the snow!

Hanover, the Green, this morning. It was snowing, the Christmas tree was up, I couldn't complain about the view while waiting for the bus to the airport.