BLAST in Kiruna, Sweden — Spring 2005

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Note: please click on thumbnails to see the day's collection of pictures
tisdag juni 21, 2005 (15:32:08)
Finally, we relax. Matt leaves Kiruna early on Friday morning, the rest of us (Barth, Don, Ed, Marie and I) leave at 2pm. Barth has and early flight out and stays at an airport hotel. The rest of us head into the city. Ed has to leave fairly early Saturday morning, but the rest of us have a few days to explore the city. We visit many museums and walk around a lot. Stockholm is a very nice city and we have great weather. See my panorama gallery. After a couple of days of tourism, we leave for home Monday morning.

torsdag juni 16, 2005 (22:58:27)
BLAST's flight was terminated this morning at about 8 am (Sweden time), in the middle of Victoria Island in the Northwest Territories. At this point, we don't know much about the state of the gondola, but we do know that it is on dry ground, that it was not dragged across the ground by the parachute, and that it has tipped over onto its front face. Mark and Jeff, who left Sweden early Monday morning as soon as we lost line-of-sight with BLAST, are in NWT, probably seeing the gondola for the first time as I write this. I woke up this morning (having slept for 12 hours!) after a hectic night. We lost communications with the gondola once again and had to relay commands over the phone to UBC, all the while being threatened by the imminent flight termination. Most of the team had gone to bed by the early afternoon, and Marie and I were left to finish packing. Enzo and David left today, and the rest of us leave tomorrow. Several of us will spend a few days in Stockholm before returning home after what feels like a very long time away.

tisdag juni 14, 2005 (16:45:19)
Things have settled down a bit. Gondola control is proceeding smoothly, and we are cleary observing many interesting fields. The most confusing thing at this point is keeping track of time. There are at least five clocks I need to know: local time, since we are still in contact with Esrange; Universal time, since TDRSS windows are given in UT; BLAST's local sidereal time, the time adjusted to the sidereal day and to BLAST's always-changing longitude; Pacific time, since I'm in contact with family, friends, and colleagues at home; and, my own personal clock, which although confusing, is at least stable, although I'm a little late for bed tonight. Additionally, we are all on different sleep cycles, so we must try to keep track of when people will be coming back to the lab after sleeping. Matt, Marie and I share the midnight to 5 pm shift — today was spent scheduling observations and sending commands, and, while not monitoring data, starting to pack up the highbay.

måndag juni 13, 2005 (16:21:57)
I finally went to bed at 5 pm yesterday, after being awake for 33 hours. I slept for 6 hours. BLAST is functioning well; we've run into many problems, but we've been getting through most of them. The pointing system is now working very well. The major problem at this point is that the detector sensitivities aren't as good as we had hoped. Because of this, we've had to change our flight plan and science targets. This has proved to be quite difficult as we have to send each command through the TDRSS, which is often unavailable, but we are working through it. Also, while we were trying to debug a pointing problem this morning, the power went out in Palestine, TX — through which all of our commands and data downlink are routed — due to a thunderstorm. It made finding the problem very difficult. The float winds were intially higher than we expected, but they have calmed a bit and we are estimating that the flight will last another 3.5 days, giving us 5 days in total.

söndag juni 12, 2005 (10:20:01)
It has been a long day and we are all very tired. We spent many hours in delays before finally launching, and had many scares. After a quick rainstorm, we were left with a soaking wet primary mirror. Mark managed to dry it off with towels. After all the waiting, we started to worry about the batteries that power the gondola, which need frequent charging via the solar arrays. During one delay we hooked up a power supply running on an extension cord from the highbay. A couple of times we turned the gondola to face the solar arrays towards the Sun to decrease the discharge rate. In the end it was okay, as we managed to get enough charge from the arrays during ascent. We've had a few problems in the air, too... one of our electronics cards froze in the cold air on ascent, and it was a very nervous hour or so until it came to life. Barth has been working hard to get the pointing system tuned properly, and Ed and Enzo have been trying to identify sources in the detector time streams. Additionally, the internet at Esrange is down due to a broken fibre optic somewhere between here and Kiruna. They will hopefully have it fixed soon, as we require the 'net to see data once BLAST passes over the mountains. [It's back up as of 14:30 local time.] Here's a panorama of BLAST on the flight line. It is now 11:00 am on Sunday morning. I have been up for nearly 27 hours. I hope to go to bed soon.

söndag juni 12, 2005 (04:19:28)
We launched! It was a very long day, starting at 8 am for some of us, and finally culminated at 3:05 am with a succesful launch. BLAST is currently at an altitude of 14 km and climbing at 1.6 m/s. So far all looks good, although we won't know much more until we reach 20 km, when the air pressure is low enough that we can point. I took a lot of pictures and will post them in time, but for now you'll have to satisfy yourself with this shot.

lördag juni 11, 2005 (11:00:33)
Thursday was a fairly slow day. On Friday we visited Jukkasjärvi, a town half way between Esrange and Kiruna, and home of the Ice Hotel. We visited the church, took a tour of the (now nearly melted) Ice Hotel, and had dinner at the Ice Hotel restaurant. During the Summer the Ice Hotel keeps a gallery of ice sculptures in a cooled building, kept at -8 °C all year round. The sculptures are themed after the illustrations of John Bauer, a well-known Swedish author of children's books from the early 20th century. Despite the incredible cost, none of us could resist buying a drink from the ice bar, served in a cup made of ice. It is now 11:30 on Saturday morning, and the gondola is ready to roll out. It is overcast after a night of heavy rain, but it is expected to clear soon. We are planning to roll out at 1:30 (for now), expecting launch at around 8 pm.

torsdag juni 9, 2005 (16:01:59)
Most of us took Wednesday off to visit the mine. Ed, Marie, Matt, Paul and I went into town early to have lunch and visit the Kiruna church, which looked really pretty when we walked around it a few days ago. After the mine tour we went to a very good, although expensive, restaurant in town. The most recent weather reports show that the weather should be clear and calm this weekend, so we are hopeful. The first launch opportunity looks to be Saturday morning.

tisdag juni 7, 2005 (22:58:14)
There will be no launch tonight, as the winds are too strong. The next couple of days will be rainy and windy &mdash it is expected that Friday will be the next launch opportunity. We are planning to take a tour of the Kiruna mine during the dead time.

tisdag juni 7, 2005 (10:17:18)
We aborted our Norway trip at the last moment, for fear of being 9 hours away from the base and having the weather change. It turned out to rain heavily through Sunday and Monday as predicted, however. We declared flight-ready on Monday morning, and in anticipation of a possible launch opportunity today, finished up the neccessary tests and remaining hardware changes. The cryostat and pointing teams worked late into the night/morning, and Marie, Mark and I came in at 5:30 this morning to prepare for a 7 am rollout. The prediction was that the launch window would not open until late in the day, or early Wednesday, but that we should be ready just in case. At around 9 am NSBF declared that the winds would remain strong until later on, as expected, and that we should be ready to roll out at 7 pm. Some of us will now go back to sleep, others will remain sleeping.

lördag juni 4, 2005 (13:02:41)
After several failed attempts on Thursday and Friday, we finally had our hang test this morning and afternoon. We are now fully checked out and, except for a few (hopefully) minor points and some remaining tests, are essentially ready to fly as soon as the weather lets us. After tinkering around with the gondola for so long, it seems weird that we could soon be launching. Since last post Phil Mauskopf of Cardiff has come and gone, but plans to return next week. Anticipating a few days of bad weather and not a whole lot to do, a bunch of us are returning to Norway so that Paul can film the beautiful scenery as well as some of us recreating. We will be repeating Mark et al.'s trip to Norway, further west than we travelled last time. My little bunny friend is still hanging around. I still worry about it, but it seems healthy enough, so it must be eating. For some reason, though, it seems to think that the construction site makes a good home. I created another panorama of the launch pad.

torsdag juni 2, 2005 (10:14:44)
We continue to be quite busy. On Tuesday we mounted the sun shields and ran some more beam tests. We are still a little uncertain about the shape of our beam, but it's clear that the problems we saw a few weeks ago have been fixed, and, as far as we can tell, the optics are correctly aligned and in focus. We won't know any more until we launch. On Wednesday we were told that there was a possible launch opportunity on Thursday evening, before about 5 days of bad weather. We spent the rest of the day mounting the rest of the shields, installing the floor, making and installing foam boxes to keep various motors warm during ascent, and various other tasks. In the afternoon we learned that one of the launch vehicles (the "spooler" truck, which holds the balloon and releases it at launch) got stuck in the launch pad, and that we wouldn't be able to launch as soon as Thursday. We continued work on the gondola preparing for today's hang test, and left the gondola for the pointing team on their night shift.

tisdag maj 31, 2005 (00:54:14)
We've been quite busy for the last couple of days. Friday and Saturday were fairly relaxed, except for an incident involving a knife and my finger. I was cutting a large window in a thick piece of foam with a big, inflexible knife and slipped, cutting into my left index finger. Matt took me to the hospital where I got stitches, a tetanus shot, and antibiotics, but it wasn't too serious — I can still move my finger, so I clearly didn't damage anything too important. The cryostat finished cooling Sunday morning, and the rest of the day was spent running tests. We mounted the cryostat on the gondola today and ran some preliminary tests. Tomorrow we will remount the sun shields and prepare for the hang test on Wednesday morning, which essentially declares that our hardware is ready flight. The weather has not been great over the last few days: mostly overcast, with rain and some snow. It cleared up this evening, though, and allowed us to observe the midnight Sun for the first time.

fredag maj 27, 2005 (14:16:44)
Not much to report on for the last few days. The cryostat cools and the pointing team tests pointing. Esrange held a media day on Wednesday — Mark and Barth spoke to the press for about half an hour, then the mob was brought to the highbay to see BLAST. Ed gave an explanation of what they were looking at, then various Swedish press interviewed Mark and Barth and other Esrange officials. While the cryostat cools, Mark, Jeff, Peter, David and Itziar took the opportunity to take a little vacation. They are driving to the Norwegian coast, as we did a few weeks ago, but will go a little further and make it a two-day trip, including a ferry ride to the western Lofoten Islands. Mark's brother Paul Devlin, a documentary filmmaker, arrived last night. He will spend the next week or so, hopefully including the launch, filming us in action.

onsdag maj 25, 2005 (16:58:29)
After many days of testing, Monday finally brought a probable solution to our optical alignment problem. Monday and Tuesday were spent tweaking the alignment of various mirrors in the optics box. The cryostat was finally closed up this morning, and is now being pumped down to vacuum. Don, Ed, Marie, Matt and I (the under-30 contingent) took Tuesday off. We drove approximately 5 hours to a zoo in Ranua, Finland, where we saw some pretty animals. See Don's page for a more detailed view of the zoo, including a video of a very strange bird. On the way back from the zoo we came very close to running out of gas — when we finally got to a gas station, after 20 nervous kilometres, we filled our 72 litre tank with 76.5 litres of fuel. What excitement!

söndag maj 22, 2005 (18:49:31)
Saturday was another day full of tests providing no answers. We tested the optics box as many ways as we could think up, but nothing showed anything out of the ordinary. Our only remaining explanation is that something must shift during cooling. We cooled the cryostat to liquid nitrogen temperature (77 Kelvin) today, but everything still looks fine. We will begin cooling all the way to liquid helium temperature (4 Kelvin) on Monday once Peter Hargrave arrives with the replacement dichroic filters (the elements that divide the beam into the three different colours) that we discovered were damaged upon opening the optics box. Today has been a slow day. Marie, Matt and I balanced the inner frame and remounted the sun shields so that the pointing team can run tests while we cool down the cryostat over the next several days. I also spent some time organizing our collection of socket wrenches. Over lunch we joined Barth, on his day off, in the lounge to watch the F-1 race from Monaco. The weather has been quite nice over the last few days — some rain, but mostly Sun and warmish temperatures.

fredag maj 20, 2005 (21:51:29)
Thursday was spent warming the cryostat. Rather than remove it first thing in the morning, we decided to let Barth test the power system, letting the Sun shine on the solar arrays and charge the batteries for most of the day. Around 4 pm we started removing sun shields, and had the cryostat and electronics on the ground by 7 pm. Not having a whole lot to do, most of us went to bed fairly early. This morning I arrived to bad news. The cryostat was open, and the suspect mirror had in fact been installed correctly. Most of the day was spent in confusion, trying to devise new tests and racking our brains trying to figure out what the heck we have been missing. We thought we had a lead in the late afternoon, but so far it hasn't shown anything too promising. The search will continue tomorrow. Ed and I relaxed our minds this evening by playing basketball at a gym in town with some of the NSBF guys.

torsdag maj 19, 2005 (00:21:53)
At last... after all of these days with everything going so well (ignoring the what we will now call minor problems with the cryostat), we finally ran into a real problem. By waving a nitrogen dewar in front of the telescope, which shows up as a cold signal in the detectors, we found that the beam was off-centre and much smaller than expected. After spending all afternoon running tests and much discussion, we decided that this was a real problem and that we would have to remove the cryostat from the gondola and run tests on the ground. If those tests proceed as we expect, we will have to warm up the cryostat to have a look inside to see what the heck the problem is. We went to dinner in a rather depressed state, and decided to put of any major decisions until the morning. Several of us went for a walk after dinner, and on our way back came across Mark who was going for a run. He stopped and told us some good news: he thinks they have found the problem. When installing re-imaging mirrors in the optics box, they were working with old drawings, and mounted one in the wrong place. We won't know until we open up the optics box that this is indeed the problem, but it would certainly explain the peculiarities we saw today, and we hadn't been able to come up with any other reasonable explanations. We purged the cryogens from the cryostat this evening to begin the warm-up. This puts us back several days, but hopefully won't delay the launch, since the necessary pointing tests can run while the cryostat is on the ground, and the launch pad is still quite a ways away from being useable.

tisdag maj 17, 2005 (12:29:00)
We've had a very busy few days, hence the delay since my last entry. Once the cryostat had cooled down at the end of last week and the necessary tests had been performed, we were able to mount the cryostat on the inner frame. Once that was done, there was a whole slew of tasks to be done. I installed inner frame thermometry and helped Marie with the cooling system, which took a good part of Sunday and Monday. Last night we ran some alignment tests, once again pointing the laser at Mark, Jeff, and David (who returned on Friday) up on Radar hill. Today we will mount the solar panels, and will hopefully have the entire gondola together by the end of the week, which will allow us several days of pointing tests and observation simulations before our first flight opportunity. If this snow keeps up, though, we won't have to worry about launching too soon. The weather had actually been quite nice until today... yesterday was sunny and warm, and I saw a beautiful sunrise as I walked home at 1:15 this morning, but it was once again snowing when I woke up. I look forward to our next day off, when we plan to cross the border to Finland and visit the Ranua Zoo several hours south-east of Kiruna.

fredag maj 13, 2005 (12:02:10)
The weather continues to be nice, although we saw some rain and a bit of snow on Thursday afternoon and evening. It's still fairly warm, though. We rolled BLAST out the pad on Wednesday to run some tests, and Jeff, Marie, and Mark did some IRFTS measurements on Thursday. While on a walk on Wednesday, I took another panorama of the base.

onsdag maj 11, 2005 (16:32:27)
The weather has finally improved. We have now enjoyed two consecutive warm, sunny days, with no sign of change. Now that it is clear again, we can tell how little darkness we get at night — the pointing team tried to look at stars last night with the star cameras, but missed the darkest part of the night by 15 minutes and weren't able to see anything. Marco left yesterday morning and we are now down to the core team of 9 (plus Enzo's wife Katia). David returns on Friday, however, so we won't be core for long. Half a day after being told that our move from Dagobert to Dilbert will happen on Thursday, we were informed that, actually, they aren't selling Dagobert after all, and we will be staying at Dagobert. What a tease. The cryostat is cooling, last changes to mcp (the flight software) are being made and the gondola is slowly approaching completion. Yesterday I discovered some absolutely fantastic free software for stitching together digital photographs and have since spent many hours putting together these panoramas, including landscapes from our trip to Norway, as well as the shots from Esrange that I posted earlier.

måndag maj 9, 2005 (18:16:40)
Don, Ed, Marco, Marie, Matt and I took a trip to the west coast of Norway on Sunday. Narvik, a town of about 20 000 in northern Norway, a few hours west (and a little north) of Kiruna, was our first destination, where we had lunch at a burger and pizza shack. When then headed a little ways north up the coast, then travelled west along the north side of the Vestefjord, into the Lofoten Islands. After driving another couple of hours we stopped at a beautiful beach, probably about a third of the way to the western-most tip of the islands. After walking around and taking pictures, we hopped back in our cars and drove back to Kiruna, stopping several times to take more pictures. I took several panoramas of the beautiful landscape, and will post any that turn out tomorrow [see here].

måndag maj 9, 2005 (00:37:53)
Saturday was another slow day. The cryostat warmed through the day and was opened after dinner. A short circuit in the heat switch heater was found immediately and quickly fixed. Due to the lack of things to do, the under-30 contigent took Sunday off and drove to the Norwegian coast. I will post photos tomorrow.

fredag maj 6, 2005 (23:54:30)
Yet another snowy day. More troubles with the cryostat, eventually forcing us to warm it up again to fix the heat switch. Work on the gondola continues. Marie installed data and video transmitters, I attached some gondola thermometry, and Marco sculpted triangular inserts for the original secondary strut mounts on the primary. David left this morning, leaving us with 10 members.

torsdag maj 5, 2005 (20:33:26)
Another snowy day. We've had another small setback with the cryostat — a bad connection to the heat switch to the optics box. It will probably set us back another few days, but hopefully won't force us to warm it up again. More NSBF personnel arrived, we continued to build and repair sun shield panels, and we had another barbeque in the snow.

onsdag maj 4, 2005 (19:00:12)
Things appear to be moving fairly smoothly, once again. The cryostat is nearly cold, and seems to be leak free. Gondola preparations continue as usual. Greg and Jaspaul left this morning, so we are now down to 13 members. Also, we have been informed that Dagobert is being sold right from under our feet, so in a week or so we will be moving to the luxurious Dilbert, where we will enjoy in-room showers. What a treat!

tisdag maj 3, 2005 (12:32:57)
After the cancelled launch attempt on Sunday, we got up early once more on Monday. The countdown was held for half an hour at 45 minutes, but otherwise went smoothly, and we got to see the rocket launch. The rocket looks fairly small in the photos, but is in fact 42 feet tall. There has been some press coverage of the event. The base held a post-flight party yesterday evening, where we made friends with some med students from Holland. Several inches of snow fell last night, which is bad news for the state of the balloon launch pad, which must thaw before it can be tested and used. Marco and Marie saw a beautiful red fox a couple of days ago, and Marco got this great picture. I'm so jealous... I hope I get to see one.

söndag maj 1, 2005 (20:53:55)
A short sleep and an early morning.... The countdown to the rocket launch (broadcast over the PA) began at 2:30am, keeping many people up for most of the night. I got up a 5:40 for our planned meeting time of 6:10, but quickly found out the launch had been pushed back from 7 to 7:30. A few minutes later, it was announced that the countdown would be held at 45 minutes due to strong winds. The countdown was resumed two hours later and we all headed up the hill to the designated launch-viewing area, only to have the countdown help once more at 25 minutes, then shortly after cancelled for the day. Another attempt will be made tomorrow morning, this time at 6:30, with the countdown starting at 2. Those of us who didn't take naps in the afternoon plan to get to bed fairly early tonight.

lördag april 30, 2005 (21:36:55)
We spent most of the day waiting for the cryostat to warm up. The vegetarian contingent went to Kiruna for dinner, due to the non-vegetarian contingent's overtly carnivorous dinner plans. The cryostat was opened in the evening, and a loose seal was found. It was tightened up, liquid nitrogen was added, and I went to bed somewhat relieved. Unfortunately, when tested this morning, we found that the leak had not been fixed. We warmed the cryostat back up, which didn't take as long this time since it hadn't cooled very far, and completely replaced the seal. Jaspaul, Marco and I got back to work on the solar shields. I also spent some time putting together a panorama photo, taken from the highbay door. It's a little dull, but gives an idea of what the landscape looks like. The MASER 10 sounding rocket is scheduled to launch tomorrow morning at 7am. We are all excited to see the launch, and will be happy to see the end of the test countdowns, broadcast over the PA, which this morning infiltrated my sleep from 7 until I got up at 10.

fredag april 29, 2005 (11:48:57)
Just hours after yesterday's post, we ran into our first set back: a pressure leak in the cryostat, between the vacuum shell and the helium 4 pot. The leak was not seen until the cryostat was cold, which could make fixing it quite difficult, requiring several cool-down and warm-up cycles. It will take 2 days to warm the cryostat, at which point we will attempt to fix leak (we have an idea where it might be), then cool down again with our fingers crossed. In the mean time, we have a large supply of Tasty Cakes to keep us busy, courtesy of Adam and Marie.

torsdag april 28, 2005 (14:45:42)
Things are slowing down a bit, as we wait for the cryostat to cool down. I went to Kiruna for the first time on Tuesday, leaving Barth the only person to not yet leave the base. Ed arrived on Wednesday. I took my camera on a tour of our dorm, and continue to play lots of ping pong.

onsdag april 27, 2005 (17:40:53)
First Post! So, yes... I'm a week behind Don, but better late than never. Anyway... here we are, at the Northern tip of Sweden, in Kiruna, just north of the Arctic Circle. There is still snow on the ground, but it's warming up quickly. And we are quickly losing darkness at night. Why are we here? To launch our balloon-borne telescope, BLAST. We are 45 minutes outside of Kiruna at the Esrange rocket base, a division of the Swedish Space Corporation, where they launch scientific sounding rockets and balloons and track satellites. We arrived on or around April 20th, have been busy rebuilding the telescope, and expect to launch shortly after May 25th.

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© 2005 Gaelen Marsden