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December 16, 2002
December 16, 2002 - The high altitude winds still haven't stabilized, but it looks like they are getting a little better. Looking at the two Pathfinder Balloons ( click on the "Track the ATIC experiment" link to the right), the trajectories are not steady in a pattern going round and round. Rather the winds still seem to be disorganized and that causes the balloons to move in unpredictable directions. If ATIC were to have launched into this, we could not be certain where it would go or where we might have to go to recover it. Much of Antarctica is still too remote to mount a recovery operation. We are expecting a low pressure system to move in with high winds and possibly snow late Thursday, Friday, and into Saturday. Expect clearing on Sunday, so ATIC has a 'tentative' for launch on Sunday (12/21) depending on the actual weather. This gives the high altitude winds another four days to stabilize. We may well not make it on Sunday, but the subsequent several days may stay clear and we will try to sneak an ATIC launch in, if at all possible, early in the week. 

In preparation, however, we had our final Flight Readiness Review on Saturday (12/12) during which we went over the equipment to be used (balloons, parachute, transmitters, safety circuits, terminate and chute cut-away packages) and reviewed the status of ATIC and its flight plan. We agreed to not use ballast for drive up during ascent and to turn the auto-ballast system off. We are carrying only 200 pounds of ballast and want to save it for any emergency that might arise (hopefully none, but ballooning is still risky business).  In addition, we completed a detailed Recovery Plan for the ATIC Instrument and have gone over it with our Raytheon contact as well as with the NSBF crew. Joachim and Sasha have both completed Snowcraft training and are certified to go on recovery.  If space permits, we have requested that both participate in the disassembly / recovery operations. We have isolated the tools to be taken on recovery and with approval of Phil (the RSPC liason and recovery lead) will be packing them up. Phil plans to bring a small generator, so we will be able to use corded tools rather than the cordless ones, whose batteries do not last very long. Any further detailed planning will have to wait until we see the balloon trajectory and have an idea where it will come down.

We continued to monitor the slow leak in the shell and now have a long baseline (see the ATIC pictures link). The sealing we saw after the high pressure run seems to have survived and the leak rate remains at 16 mb/day. This is just about one liter per hour. The total amount of gas within the gondola is just over 6000 liters. So, we can fly a long time and not worry about this tiny leak. 

Finally, we recently accomplished a communication check using a TDRSS satellite to link ATIC to the Payload Operations Control Center (POCC) in Palestine, TX and from there to LSU and to the ATIC team at Williams Field, McMurdo over the internet. We have been allocated some space in the Crary Laboratory building in town and have installed a NIDS system there. We were able to monitor the TDRSS data and to send commands from both of the McMurdo sites. Having this ability in town will save on the need to transport people to and from Willy Field during the flight, when long-term monitoring is needed.

Doug Granger, John Wefel and Joachim Isbert interpreting the latest pressure vessel leak rate measurement 

Track the ATIC experiment


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