Friday, July 20, 2018

Just go ahead and jump.

With HASP Integration looming on the horizon, I thought I'd make a little something for tUR to remind them how far we've come with this project.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Minintegration at Langley

In about a week we'll be getting on a plane bound for Houston, Texas with the ultimate destination of the Columbia Scientific Ballooning Facility in Palestine, Texas for integration. If you weren't following us for integration last year it is a very stressful week where we make sure that the payload that we have been building will meet all of the requirements for HASP,  won't blow the HASP fuse, and that it will survive the heat, cold, and low pressure of space. 

Last week we had what we call Minintegration. This is where we run through all of the testing that we will encounter at real integration. Last year we went to NASA Goddard  for mini. This year we went to Langley! When we toured LaRC way back in December we noticed that they had thermal vacuum chambers and asked (the lovely and brilliant) Kristyn Damadeo if they ever let student groups visit and use them. She promised to look into it for us and connected us with Mark Thornblom. A few conference calls later and we had a spot testing our payload in a real testing facility at NASA.

Of course, anything beyond our glorified tamale pot/incubator testing rig is a lot of pressure (metaphorically...literally the point is that it's NOT a lot of pressure) so we wanted to make sure we put our best foot forward. We've been working at DSBF and DCSBF to get everything up to flight ready.

The Charm, Smooth and I drove up to Virginia on Sunday. We were waiting around at our terrible hotel for Jimmy to bring the payload. Memes and Jimmy were just adding some finishing touches when an essential component shorted out.  Everyone scrambled to find a quick replacement but the types of things we need aren't sold at Target and it was difficult to find anything available that would get to us in time. Jimmy's family was pressed into service to source parts in neighboring cities. This delay lead to more delays and soon it was evening. After a quick leadership chat we decided that it made more sense for us to meet halfway between Hampton and Greenbelt to trade off the payload so I found a Sheetz that was open 24/7 and we made a plan to drive to the middle of nowhere at 11 pm. We hopped back into the car at 9 pm and arrived at the Sheetz ahead of schedule, texted DCSBF to see what they had as an ETA...and...they hadn't left yet. 

Many, many, many polite, delicate, professional, and lady-like words later...we were back on the Maryland. We arrived at DCSBF at about 12:44 AM.

In spite of the late hour, or perhaps because of how loopy we all were, we were still jubilant to be reunited with our teammates. After some quick instructions and a flurry of tetris style packing we were back in the car for the 3.5 hour drive back to Virginia. We got back around 4 AM, fell into bed, and then got up bright and early to meet Mark and test RAM!

But then...somehow...we got lost twice on the way to Langley and ended up being late.

All of these delays paid off because we expelled all of our bad luck at the beginning of the week. From that point on it was smooth sailing.

Seth got promoted to Integration Team Lead with only a short amount of time to prepare. He was anxious about the prospect of being in charge of the project since he came on board late but he rose to the challenge. He spent most of the downtime on this trip reviewing videos, sifting for tasks, and listening to the dulcet tones of Space Viking. 

Meanwhile, Smooth jumped in and took over the assembly. We had a few tiny tweaks to make to RAM before we could pop it in the chamber.

Mark Thornblom was a fantastic host and made us feel right at home in his testing facility. He helped us unload, gave us a safety briefing, and then basically remained at our beck and call for the rest of our time there. Everyone we met was incredible and so many people came by because they were excited to meet RAM.

Blue is RAM's color.

The serious overtime that Dan and Jimmy put in was worth it because RAM did everything it was supposed to do, perfectly, on the first try. They made us look good! After we got everything ready for the test we adjourned for the day and headed to our new luxurious hotel , took naps, waited for Jim Mike, and then ate at an all you can eat sushi place for dinner.

After a gloriously restorative night of sleep in huge, fluffy beds we went back to LaRC and started our first round of thermal vac testing with a bake at 55 degree Celsius. RAM had a test cycle to run through that needed to be re-started every once in a while but mainly we spent the day watching, waiting, and hoping everything continued to work.

We had lunch in the cafeteria and the guys discovered the Black Hole. This abomination of a sandwich is composed of a hamburger patty, topped with chicken tenders, and covered in BBQ.

 I suggested that they add another layer of sweet potato tater tots...because why not. 

The afternoon passed as you might expect. I had another engagement at the National Institute of Aerospace but the rest of the testing in the afternoon was blessedly free of incident. The guys even got to see the ISS downlink. 

With a successful day of testing cleared we decided to treat ourselves to a fancy dinner at the Deadrise and a relaxing evening exploring the waterfront. Hampton, VA is gorgeous! None of these photos are edited.

Wednesday we were back at it, this time we were chilling the payload down to to -55 C. 

Seth had a light lunch to make up for everything he ate the day before.

We took a tour of a few testing facilities that I couldn't photograph and even more people came by to visit RAM. 

Here's a graph that shows all of the paces that we put RAM through over the week.

Seth and Spencer had an opportunity to help Mark by designing a bracket for the testing chamber. 

We passed cryo with no issues, so then it was time for our nemesis, oscilloscope testing!! We let the payload come back up to ambient conditions, ran a quick open door test, and then hauled it all out of the chamber. Jim Mike had been training for this moment for a month. 

We had one mysterious issue where the arm went limp and power dropped suddenly that James thinks might be related to the strong magnet on his watch band. Other than that the readings were quiet....too quiet. 

Jim Mike did a great job on the oscilloscope considering he was basically under a microscope while he was working. The PR interns came to visit during this period and took a bunch of glamour shots of RAM. 

When testing was over we said tearful goodbyes to Mark and his team. We are so thankful to have this opportunity to test because it means that we are in a much better position to go into Integration with confidence. We were told that we got lucky that our timing coincided so well with a period where Mark needed to do some testing of the chamber but we know that all of the credit goes to Mark for scrambling to find a creative way to make this happen for us. Testing is challenging at a small community college where we don't have access to facilities and we can't afford to pay to have our payloads tested. Stakes are also higher for us because what money we do have to spend on projects is very carefully doled out, and finding payload errors at the last minute could tank our whole mission! 

The guys went South to NC and I headed North back to Maryland to bring RAM back to Memes and SV. They had scheduled a time to have some EE interns visit and do some more scope testing, just to see if we could really find any issues, and all was quiet on the Western front once again.

I was also pleased because I got to see Jimmy give his laser activity presentation to a live audience and visit with his wee-tiny-baby sister.
(And astronaut Ricky Arnold.)

So now we're back at DSBF printing everything in kynar while the DCSBF team clocks in for more late nights to get everything perfected for Integration!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Episode V: The Intern Strikes Back

I promised y'all photos of Johnson Space Center weeks ago, and I'm finally here to deliver.

JSC is huge, it sits on 1,620 acres of what used to be a cattle ranch. We have lots of cool wildlife on center, like giant ducks, herds of deer, baby skunks, and even long horns!

The Crew Office, has a studio across from my office where they film all sorts of different videos and a lot of time one or more of my team gets called in to help.

I asked if this is where NASA filmed the moon landing, I got a lot of blank stares. That suit is a full EVA suit, and there's a few gloves and boots floating around somewhere in that room. My office is having their own studio built right next door to this one.

Building 9 is home to the training mock ups. There are mock ups of Orion, the Boeing Starliner, a Soyuz, and most of the International Space Station modules. (SpaceX is so secretive that they won't house the mock up of their commercial crew capsule at JSC.)  Most of the mock ups are "medium fidelity" , so they're not 100% accurate and responsive. But these are what are used to train crew members before they get to fly to station.

Part of the ISS, the dark rectangles to the left are interchangeable racks that store things in the walls of the station. These mock ups are for teaching repairs on certain racks and can be taken apart and reassembled.

I got to co-pilot the space shuttle! This mock up is about to be moved out of JSC and retired to a museum.
Space shuttle space toilet!
Mock up of the ISS cupola. I learned that it is made of one piece of metal.

The very cramped interior of the Soyuz - the dimensions of the Soyuz are what dictate the height of our astronauts since its currently the only craft taking crews to space. The Orion can fit a human that is 6' 7".

The Russian Zarya module - the first element of the International Space Station to be launched into orbit. The walls and ceiling are completely carpeted because the Russians thought it would be useful to Velcro things to the surfaces but they quickly became damp and moldy.
More delightful Russian design aesthetics. That's Gordo Andrews, his job is to wine and dine VIPs and to work with production companies who want to film at JSC. He started at JSC 30ish years ago working for the legendary Gene Kranz. Gordo is the nicest guy in the world and has millions of great stories, but also believes in aliens and alien abductions. 


Kibo, the Japanese module - a much sleeker, visually appealing aesthetic than the Russian modules. That hatch is where experiments are let out into space in a floating lab that is fondly referred to as "the back porch".

The air lock where astronauts pressurize/depressurize on either end of their space walks.

I was told this is where everyone takes a photo to send back to mom. Mounted on the Zarya are the patches for every ISS mission. Currently in space are 3 Americans, 2 Russians, and 1 German who comprise Expeditions 56 and 57.

B9 also houses several rovers from different discontinued programs, as well as vehicles and suits that are used in habitat experiments in White Sands, New Mexico.
Used in White Sands, NM - crew climbs into the suit from the back while inside the vehicles then zip themselves in and reverse the process upon their return to keep any grit and debris from entering the vehicle.

Special guest appearance of Canadarm!!! The MRV can drive in all directions and its super cool to see. NASA busted the MRV out to drive in the Houston Pride parade a few weeks ago and it was amazing.

I believe this is one of the rovers that was supposed to be part of G.W. Bush's Constellation program that has since been cancelled. 

Next up was the Neutral Buoyancy Lab! This is actually located a off-Center and I was not at all prepared for how cool it is.
The first thing you see when you walk in is a huge high bay where they clean and refurbish equipment as necessary.

Gordo pointed out that the photos on the bottom are of equipment being tested in the pool and the ones on top are of the equipment actually in use.

Guys, I about died when I saw the pool. It's beautiful and huge.

The submerged equipment are exteriors of ISS modules. There are no internal bits because this is where the astronauts learn to maneuver and perform tasks that will be critical for space walks.

NBL keeps over 100 (!) divers on staff. Two divers dive with every astronaut in the pool and  while the astronaut may be in the pool for upwards of 6 hours, the divers work in 2 hour shifts. An additional diver goes into the pool to record video of the training.

Possibly second most useless life guard stand after the one in the Olympic pool.

Big cranes to move the modules in and out of the pool as necessary.

Orion!!!! This craft was used in the pool for ingress and egress testing.

Up on the left is the control room and then on the right is the debrief room. When I was there, Chris Cassidy and a cosmonaut had just finished a dive and were in the middle of debrief.

NBL also rents out some of its space and divers to oil companies so they can test their equipment, which is kind of neat. 

After my mind being thoroughly blown, Gordo took us to Mission Control. Flight Control Room 1 (FCR1) is the ISS control room and earlier that day Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold had completed a 6 hr 45 minute space walk so there were a few people milling about in the control room.

This middle panel tracks station's path and the area in which it will go dark.

The left-most screen has the live feeds from the external ISS cameras. While we were there station passed through a dawn cycle and we got to see the sun rise on the station. It's hard to convey how amazing that is to see, and it was absolutely beautiful.

The right panel has a feed from one of the internal cameras and you can see ESA astronaut Alex Gerst on screen. He'll be commander of Exp. 57 starting in October. Also, up on top, several of the smaller screen show other mission controls, including JAXA's MC at Tsukuba Space Center.

From there we peeked into FCR 2, the old shuttle control room, and FCR 3, which I think is the Orion MC or where they run sims.

Finally, we closed out the day in the Apollo control room which still smells like cigarettes and stress. It's currently being remodeled but we got to sit in the original viewing room where astronaut families would sit and we saw a chair where Queen Elizabeth once sat. 

The building originally had a pneumatic tube system for communications and we were told the guys used to steal each others' badges or sandwiches and send them throughout the building. #NERDS

Recently, a fellow intern took my friend Ronnie and I to his office in the Rapid Prototyping Lab (RPL). We got to hop into an Orion simulator where we sat in the horizontal seats looked out a porthole and watched videos of the Orion launch and landing tests so it felt like we were really in the craft. Then we got to go through some sims in a faux-cockpit and learn how the computer systems and displays work.
Let it be know that I was a much better Orion pilot than Ronnie.

That's all for now, but as a reward for making it through this massive post, here's a ridiculously cute shiba inu I met this weekend.