Tuesday, February 28, 2017

yep, still here...

We stood down for a second night Sunday night because of snow accumulation...reports of over 12" of snow at the science center, rather unusual for this area.  By Monday afternoon the range was ready for us to return, remove the shelters, and bring the payloads back vertical after the storm.  Fortunately the weekend of heavy snow coincided with a dead-zone in the solar wind activity, so we haven't missed much.  There was a pretty aurora over Venetie at one point, and John Elliott sent us a lovely picture.  This is a 30-second exposure so it conflates spatial and temporal structure for an interesting braiding effect.

You can see the cabin where our intrepid Venetie staff is staying.  (You can often see this in the real-time all-sky images from Venetie also.)  Here are some other pictures from David Kenward, who was up in Venetie the first week, and will return tomorrow.  


Venetie is approached by plane, over the White Mountains.  After that there is an enormous plain.  To the far north can be seen the Brooks Range.  David notes that the town is linked by walkie-talkies, and that on one channel there is a sort of general public address system, on which there is occasionally walkie-talkie-bingo, with prizes to be won.

  We are hopeful for clear skies and auroral activity tomorrow, it is looking like a promising evening.  I need to remember to buy donuts for the blockhouse...the pinker and sparklier and  stickier the donuts, the more efficacious they are in inducing good launch conditions.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

back on the rail!

    the payload is back on the rail!  so we are back in business.  it was turned on and checked once on the rail and all seems good.  however, a large snowstorm (6-12" of snow tomorrow, unusual for this area) is barreling down upon us, so, the launchers were lowered and the shelters pulled over them, and we will stand down for saturday evening while the snow comes through.  in all my time here i cannot remember having to do this before (lower the rails for snow/wind).
     so, we will hunker down and make soup tomorrow, and be back counting sunday night.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

update for last night and tonight

Hello all-
Here is a lovely lovely video from the digital all sky camera at our downrange site in Venetie during the first rocket launch two nights ago.  The red dot that appears midway shows the location of the payload as it transits through the field of view of the camera.  We launched at 10:14 UT (time is shown in lower left);  we sent the call to drop below 3 minutes just before 10:10 (right when the sky goes dark!!!) but we could see it coming in the southwestern horizon of the Poker camera, so we knew that the substorm was approaching.

It seems clear that the little Bob payloads did not escape from the main payload during this first flight.  So we spent much of last night exploring that situation;  the payload for rocket 304 was removed from the rail and brought back to the assembly building so that we could explore it while the other mission counted their window (they did not launch, much snow).  All the things we can think of that may have caused the problem, do not seem evident in the second payload.  So we are considering and assessing, in order to decide whether we are comfortable returning the payload to the rail on Friday.  For tonight, we are taking our mandatory one-day-in-any-14-day-period off.  Scarily, we are within 14 days of the end of our window.....

In the meantime, the science team is making lots of plots of our excellent rocketA event.  We have lots of data to consider.

Also, here is our logo in draft, thanks Max and Robin!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

rocket A launch!!!!

A lovely photo from NASA photographer Terry Zaperach.

A lovely launch into a spectacular substorm, a perfect trajectory

A perfect call from a truly superior science team.

We think that the Bobs did not deploy so we will be assessing that tomorrow;  looks like all the other instrumentation worked fine.  Good Efield data from the Cowboy, and ERPA and MainPIP data.  Dave H, we launched into a nice eastward flow region for you!

More news tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

not yet

Two moose and some hair-raising driving and some pretty aurora, but no launch(es) yet.  We have great hopes for tomorrow night as the weather should clear for a bit before a big storm.   -25F at the bottom of the hill tonight.
I always forget, until I see them again, how /big/ moose are.
We have swapped out one team member from the Venetie station;  I'll ask him tomorrow for some pictures from his time up there this past week, and post them here.

Monday, February 20, 2017

quiet, short, cloudy night

A short night tonight, with pretty solid cloud cover over Venetie for all of the evening.  The other mission took the opportunity to resolve a few technical issues, and we all left an hour early, a welcome respite after staying 2 extra hours (until 3am) 2 days ago, and 1 extra (until 2am) yesterday.

The composite imagery put together by the UAF group is now posted publicly at  http://sdi_server.gi.alaska.edu/sdi_web_plots/alaska_merged_data_maps/mapped_allky_images.htm
at the moment it's pretty cloudy across Alaska but when the skies are clear and the aurora is active, it shows beautiful images of the auroral oval stretching across Alaska.

We spent much time this evening discussing the magnetometer traces that you can see at
If you choose Kaktovik, Toolik, Ft Yukon, Poker, and Eagle;  24 (or 6)  hours, 250 nT in the right hand column, you will see the display that we mostly use.  This shows the magnetic signatures as a function of latitude (Kaktovik is on the North Coast, down to Poker where we are, and Eagle a bit to the east).  The auroral activity is accompanied by horizontal currents.  A current is accompanied by a magnetic signature.  So this gives us a metric for the intensity of the aurora.  In the evening sector (during our window) the electrojet is predominantly westward.  A westward current over your head would be measured as a southward magnetic deflection on the ground (remember Ampere's law from your E&M course;  put your thumb along the current and your fingers wrap the magnetic field), so we are looking for the horizontal (H, red) trace to have sudden excursions downward.  We'd really like those to be a few hundred nT, for perhaps 10-20 minutes.  What we've seen in the last few days have been smaller, periodic "blippies" as we have been calling them.

We'll be hoping for some clear skies in the next few days as a large snowstorm is bearing down on us later in the week.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

not yet...

Another relatively active night with clear skies at Venetie and clouds at Poker, so we were prime again waiting for an event we could use.  The solar wind has been strong for the past few days, but during our window time, it has not coupled well into the Earth's environment, instead sliding on by without giving a lot of energy to the auroral zones.  We have had aurora in the north, but it has not been powered by the strong current systems we are trying to study.  This also makes the aurora rather "flash-in-the-pan", with lots of sporadic bursts of activity that don't hang around.  Thus we dropped the count three times tonight, trying to catch one of them, but none of them developed into a useful event.
    The solar wind should drop off a bit in the next few days, but that's ok as we don't need or want too much activity (in which case the aurora would move too far south for us);  we just need better coupling of a moderate solar wind into the Earth's environment.  Predictions are for better weather at Poker tomorrow night, so it may be that we stand back to give the other mission an opportunity to try for a launch.  We'll see how it goes.
   Rob has posted a short tutorial about how we interpret the data we are watching, to decide about launching the rocket;  it's on the "Useful Links" page of this blog.  I'll try to update it in the next day or so to include a description of the auroral current signatures we are looking for for Isinglass.
   We took a picture of our science team tonight, just before Anthea had to leave;  I'll post it here.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

tenterhooks but no launch.....

we spent a lot of tonight at a 3 minute hold, but the stars never aligned so no launch yet.

scientists at work:

and a beautiful composite display from Mark Conde and Don Hampton:

Friday, February 17, 2017

a lovely night but no launch yet

We had an excellent night, with lots of lovely aurora and two healthy rockets.  We started the night with some additional turnon checks to verify a slightly different turnon procedure, which seems to mitigate some instrumentation kerfuffle we were dealing with last night.  That worked nicely, and our vertical checks (a practice run through the countdown procedure which we do every night before the window opens;  the rocket is vertical, thus the name) went smoothly.  The other mission is "prime" early in our shared window (they get dibs 7-10 pm and we have control 10-1 am), so we had some good science discussion among our group in the early part of the evening.
     We have a (large) number of cameras installed in a small village called Venetie, north of the range.  These cameras will take movies of the aurora at different wavelengths and with different fields of view, throughout the window and in particular during the flight.  A major part of this mission will be the assimilation of these groundbased observations (plus from the various radars) with our observations from onboard the rocket(s).  Thus, if it is cloudy at Venetie, we can't launch, as those cameras can't see.  So tonight, we had clear skies at Poker, but it was cloudy at our downrange site at Venetie.  So while we could watch the aurora, we couldn't launch.  So we had a good time watching the aurora and running a few "practices" where we (the science team) decide when is a good time to "drop the count", and see if we get it right.  (We are sitting at a 10 minute hold throughout the night, which means that at any time, if conditions are right, we can launch within 10 minutes;  when we drop the count, it means we bring things to a 3 minute point, from which we can either launch within 5-10 minutes, or recycle back to 10.)
   So all in all a good night;  we hope for a repeat tomorrow of the healthy rockets and the good aurora, but without the downrange clouds.
   Here are some pictures of the aurora that Anthea took from outside the science building:

and here is a picture of the Lidar facility (an instrument which looks at the mesosphere by scattering a  laser off neutral metal atoms in the upper atmosphere, PI Prof Rich Collins UAF/GI)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Some range and moose pictures!

No launches yet, some pictures from the range.

 Baby moose on the way home!  Mommy moose ran off before we could take a picture.

Rockets on the rail!  Kept nice and warm in their heated boxes. 

Telemetry station and dishes!

View from the TM building on the hill, including PFISR on the lower right.

a full day, but no launch yet

We had a good full day of counting, but still lots of snow all over, so no launch yet.  Here's a picture of the launchers in daylight (from ROC photo Terry Z.)

and, yesterday, Rob got to see a moose and a baby moose!  he'll post a picture here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Launchers going vertical! and getting there!

Here is a pretty sequence of photos from Kevin Abnett showing one of our launchers going vertical.  You can see to the right the white shelter which has been pulled to the right, and then the white boxed rocket on the rail moving up to the vertical position.  In the foreground you can see the shelter for the other rocket, which will soon go through the same sequence.

Later tonight the second launcher went vertical:


and by the end of the night, all four (2 Isinglass, 2 Pfaff) were up!

Skies were cloudy at our various sites, but we (finally!) had some auroral activity....looking forward to tomorrow!

First day of our window

This evening is the first day of our launch window.  However, it is snowing on our camera sites....and there is no aurora either....so it is a good night to work through and practice our turnon and countdown procedures.  The other mission (Dr Pfaff from NASA/GSFC), which has two rockets which will be launched 90 seconds apart (two rockets in the air at once, one at higher altitudes than the other) has gone vertical;  this means, they have pulled the shelters back and elevated the launchers.  The rockets are warm in their styrofoam boxes, so they will stay vertical until they are launched.  Our rockets are still horizontal, we are getting ready now to do some practice counts with them but we won't go vertical until tomorrow.

Here are two pretty pictures:  birch trees on the Birch Hill reserve, and balloons in our balloon inflation building:

Monday, February 13, 2017

Poker campaign on NASA snapchat later today

The day before the window!

Our window of launch opportunities opens Monday night (13-14 February)!  Both of the Isinglass rockets are on the rail and we hope to go vertical sometime on Monday.  We did a practice count last night, stepping through the sequence of events in our countdown plan which we will exercise each night until we launch.  Over the past week we have been working through all the details leading to  this point.  The payloads were assembled in the Payload Assembly Building:

and then put on carts and rolled outdoors for the GPS rollout test.  For this, they are wrapped snugly in their blankets (it's pretty cold out up here...)


(V Gsell photos)

Then they get taken to the rail and mounted to the horizontal rail along with the motors.

 Later this past week we did the "boom test", which is a turnon check of all systems in the full-up configuration, mounted on the rail (not exactly sure why it is called this, much speculation);  at any rate we had two good boom tests.  Thus on Saturday night we were able to run through a practice count on one of them and this week we can move into the proper launch window phase.

The science team has been setting up our center at the top of the hill, from which we can watch the aurora and collect information from many different instruments fielded across Alaska and beyond.  On Friday part of our team went to Venetie Alaska to field an array of auroral imagers and a GPS receiver:

(D Hampton photo)

Two of the students on the team will stay up there this week to control the cameras each night and to report back to the science center what they are seeing;  the Venetie site is under the rocket trajectory apogee so cameras there have the best view of the auroral activity we will be measuring with the rocket.

We're all very excited to start the window!  On Monday evening, a NASA PR team will be monitoring our activities for a SnapChat sequence (see @nasa there), so you can see more about our preparations there.  We are sharing our window with another mission, which also has two rockets (their two will be launched together, so, two rockets in the air at once), so there's lots of activity and much to do.  I'll write more tomorrow about our science preparations and how we monitor the auroral activity and decide about launching.  In the post below, Rob Clayton has assembled some photos from Poker Flat, Fairbanks, and the (beautiful!) drive in between;  the address of the rocket range is "30 Mile Steese Highway" because we are 30 miles north of Fairbanks....

We had a group dinner Sunday evening with both missions:

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Before Launch Window

Some Alaska and rocket photos from Rob Clayton:

Entrance to the Poker Flat Research Range!

Views along the trip

Awesome Radar Domes!

Our Payload being tested post assembly!

More beautiful Alaska!

Drive to work every day :)

Fairbanks at night.

UAF GI at sunset.