Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Integration 2018

It's difficult to believe that Integration was a week ago! We have been preparing for that week since December and it all feels a bit like a blur right now. 

This year we still had to get all the gear and all the people from across the East coast all the way to Houston, Texas at about the same time. We left in the evening instead of the early morning but because of storms in the area it still ended up being a long trek.

When we pack for Integration we try to bring everything we think we might need. All of that gear PLUS enough clothes for a week makes for a lot of luggage. 

Setherton and I left NC around 2 pm and made it to Houston around 11 pm. Then we waited for Dan and Jimmy who were also delayed by storms.

Then the entire crew loaded into a Nissan Armada and I drove us to Palestine, Texas where we arrived at around 3:30 am. 

We slept for a minute or two and then headed to CSBF at about 9 am. 

The whole first day and much of the first night was spent getting RAM in ship shape. 

This year all of the teams were in the hangar together...about 80 space was tight. The cool thing was that we got to know a lot of the other teams. Groups socialized more in general and we soon gained a reputation for having bits and pieces of gear that folks could borrow. We appreciated the chance to return the favor to the teams that we borrowed parts from last year.

After giving RAM a haircut, and cutting out some...ok most...of our cameras, we were ready to integrate. This year that went a lot more smoothly!

Everyone was interested to meet Lil Vince and even Dr. Guzik seemed thrilled by our project. 

We took a quick celebratory selfie with the CSBF launch pad behind us. (MEELIONS OF FIRE ANTS.)

After we integrated it was time for some food and sleep! We  took naps and went to one of the BBQ places that the guys loved last year and it was NOT GOOD. They were incredibly disappointed. We also went to Lowes and while Jimmy looked for parts we took advantage of the comfy seats and free wifi.

We were back at it bright and early on Friday morning for the thermal vacuum test.

One of the other people on center had an HD camera that needed to be tested and it was decided (squee!!) that the camera would be focused on RAM for the entirety of the test. It looked phenomenal AND it gave us instant eyes on the progress of our payload as it ran through the paces during the thermal/vac cycle. Normally we'd be mostly blind during the test or relying on our on-board cameras. It sounds like we might even get the star treatment during the flight too!

Down time during the testing meant that we could catch up on paperwork, applications, intern posters, smaller tasks and harassing Dan by putting sweetened corn snacks in his precious trail mix.

The problem with having a camera watching your every move is that everyone gets to see (live and in color!) when your robotic arm makes a swan dive and grinds itself to a halt...with fifteen minutes left in the test. Our low stress mood also ground to a halt.

As soon as the arm came out of the chamber the guys got to work on it to try to figure out what the problem was. Jimmy's done a better job writing up the issue in the previous entry, but the basic idea is that we killed a servo somehow. We scrambled to order another one at 4:30 pm on a Friday and were promised that we'd have a new servo in hand by noon on Saturday.

At about noon on Saturday I checked the tracking on our package and it said that we could expect delivery to be on time by the end of the day on Monday. At the end of the day on Monday we'd be past our testing window and back on a plane to home. Suffice it to say we were pretty upset.

But Saturday was also the day that the other part of the team landed in Texas and drove out to CSBF. Murr and Jimichael certainly boosted morale. 

They got the extra treat of seeing a man walking down the road pick up a snake and throw it. Welcome to Texas.

After dinner we did two things that Seth had wanted to do all week long.

We went out to the launch pad at CSBF at night to see the stars. The long trek through the dark was magical and we were all the right sort of slap happy and silly. We were joined by the ghost of an old prospector!

And then the guys all met in the hotel conference room to play Star Craft. They had two nights of am inter-generational grudge match tournament and I don't know who won or if anyone won or whatever...but I know that the Olds cheated a little bit.

Sunday we started out a little bit bummed because we knew that we weren't going to be participating in the T/V test but we showed up to work on site and keep track of what the other teams were doing. 

In the middle of the day we found out that we'd passed the first test and we were approved for flight! 

And we even had a visit from Space Pup and Son of Space Pup!

Sunday night we left CSBF in Palestine, Texas for what might be the last time. I didn't think about that while it was happening. At the time we were just excited to go to Houston and visit Johnson on Monday.* I hope that at some point in the not too distant future that at least one of us gets to go back to CSBF. The ballooning community is pretty tight knit so it's not too far fetched to think that one of the members of tUR will be back. And who knows...there's always a third year of HASP to think about. We've joked that we'll field a consortium from UMD, UC Boulder and Houston (All schools that already have HASP teams and all schools that tUR could realistically have students matriculating at.)

But that's all in the distant future. On the Close Horizon (inside joke) we have RAM3 launching from Fort Sumner at the end of the month to look forward to! A new school year! Possible new jobs for team members!

Stay tuned. Same Space Cat time. Same Space Cat channel.

*I'll let someone else post about Best NASA since I can't take credit for any of the photos.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Origins and Status of RAM

[Dan and I] are back in Maryland for the final push; RAM successfully integrated and is cleared for flight, but we haven't had the time for our entire software team (read: Dan) to actually, you know, write and test the software for flight. We have 16 days before 'pencils-down' and we ship to New Mexico. This is a rigid due date, so we're in a stringent hardware lock even though we ended up pulling a lot of our camera system out in order to duck some power-brownout issues that surfaced recently. We'll (I'll) have to clamp down on any (my) temptations to try and sneak features or components back in.

RAM is working again, resurrected and reassembled. We burned out one of our critical servos due to some bad commanding, but swapped components to get us limping along again (though with a dead gripper, as shown in the video below.) By this evening we'll have a fresh one swapped in and will be back to full functionality.

Here's a click-through link in case the embedding doesn't work.
One of the big hopes we had for flight was to run completely autonomously, letting cameras and computers and reference tags (the blocky black-and-white bits in the picture below) do all the driving. For some of the reasons mentioned above as well as some other schedule slips -- most of them mine -- we haven't been able to develop that control feedback system to the level we'd want for flight. 

Because everyone loves a picture of a picture, this is the BusyBox from inside the vacuum chamber, as captured by a high-resolution CSBF camera and output to a laptop over radio link. Thanks to Chris Field for letting us piggyback on his beautiful imagery system.
However, we're still on track for an exciting flight! We're shifting to doing most of our driving by 'dead reckoning', i.e. with absolutely-referenced instructions sent from on board. Rather than reacting in real-time, the arm will be moving -- blind, but moving -- to manipulate all the components on our 'Busy Box' using explicit commands we plan out for it. We'll see if we can get some lighter test elements working and tested well enough for flight, but right now we need to keep focused on the minimum deliverable of a working arm.

Thanks again to Peter Sooy for inviting us up to Goddard way back in December of last year; the information we learned during that visit helped inform the shape of the project that we're mere weeks away from launching into near-space. Thanks also to Zakiya Tomlinson for fielding all of our questions and showing us the ropes. And, finally, thanks to the patient HASP ground crews from LSU and CSBF for hosting us last week: Dr. T. G. Guzik, Doug Granger, Josh Collins, and Anthony Ficklin were all more than accommodating and gave us everything we needed to succeed. And, last but far from least, thanks to NC Space Grant for their continuous support and funding; we couldn't do this without y'all!