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CAPER Mission Blog


2015-11-30 (Monday)

Day 4

Launch at 7:25 UTC

Unfortunately, there appears to have been a vehicle anomoly.  The third stage seperated before ignition.  The payload failed to acheive a viable altitude.

  4:30 UTC 5:30 UTC 6:30 UTC 7:30 UTC 8:30 UTC 9:30 UTC 10:30 UTC
Weather @ Andenes Partly Cloudy, No Precipitation Partly Cloudy, No Precipitation Partly Cloudy, No Precipitation Partly Cloudy, No Precipitation      
Winds @ Andenes 4.0 m/s from the Southeast 4.2 m/s from the Southeast 3.0 m/s from the Southeast 4.5 m/s from the Southeast      
Launcher Elevated Elevated Elevated Elevated      
Range Go No Go, fishing boats in the hazard area Go Go      
CUTLASS Radar On Line On Line On Line On Line      
EISCAT Radar Off Line Off Line On Line On Line      
Imagers @ Svalbard Go, Partly Cloudy Go, Partly Cloudy Go, Clear @ NyAlesund, Partly Cloudy @ Lonyearbyen Go, Clear @ NyAlesund, Cloudy @ Lonyearbyen      
Solar Wind Bz South Bz zero Bz South Bz South      
Science No Science, too early in the day No Science, too early in the day No cusp signatures yet, but there is auroral activity overhead of Svalbard. Signatures of cusp seen in all available radaars and imagers.      

2015-11-29 (Sunday)

Day 3

  4:30 UTC 5:30 UTC 6:30 UTC 7:30 UTC 8:30 UTC 9:30 UTC 10:30 UTC
Weather @ Andenes Cloudy, No Precipitation Cloudy, No Precipitation Cloudy, No Precipitation Partly Cloudy, No Precipitation Partly Cloudy, No Precipitation    
Winds @ Andenes 8.0 m/s from the South 5.0 m/s from the South 8.5 m/s from the South 7.2 m/s from the South 8.2 m/s from the South 8.2 m/s from the South  
Launcher Down Down Down Down Down Down  
Range No Go, Winds are too strong No Go, Winds are too strong and variable No Go, Winds are too strong and variable No Go, Winds are too strong and variable No Go, Winds are too strong and variable No Go, Winds are too strong and variable  
CUTLASS Radar On Line On Line On Line On Line On Line On Line  
EISCAT Radar Off Line Off Line On Line On Line On Line On Line  
Imagers @ Svalbard No Go, Cloudy No Go, Cloudy No Go, Cloudy No Go, Cloudy No Go, Cloudy No Go, Cloudy  
Solar Wind Bz North Bz North Bz North Bz North Bz North Bz South  
Science No Science No Science No Science Weak echos in the radars echos in the radars to the north, enhancement of electron temperatures over Longyearbyen echos in the radars over Svalbard, indications of cusp signitures along the rocket track  

Unfortunately we missed an opportunity due to winds at the range. We were at the extreme limit of our launcher settings and the variablity was making it a no go. The ground winds were also high and we would have risked damaging the styrofoam box protecting the payload. If we lose that, we would be down for 2 days.

We are scrubbed @ 9:30 UTC since we could not get the launch in the window (which ends at 10:10 UTC)

2015-11-28 (Saturday)

Day 2

  4:30 UTC 5:30 UTC 6:30 UTC 7:30 UTC 8:30 UTC 9:30 UTC 10:30 UTC
Weather @ Andenes Cloudy, No Precipitation Cloudy, No Precipitation Cloudy, Rain and Sleet Cloudy, Rain and Sleet Cloudy, Rain and Sleet Cloudy, Rain and Sleet  
Winds @ Andenes 1.0 m/s from the West 1.0 m/s from the West 1.7 m/s from the southeast 1.9 m/s from the west 3.4 m/s from the southwest 2.3 m/s from the southwest  
Launcher Down Elevated Elevated Elevated Elevated Down  
Range No Go, Booster impact is too close to land No Go, Booster impact is too close to land No Go, Booster impact is too close to land No Go, Booster impact is too close to land No Go, Booster impact is too close to land No Go, Booster impact is too close to land  
CUTLASS Radar On Line On Line On Line On Line On Line On Line  
EISCAT Radar Off Line Off Line On Line On Line On Line On Line  
Imagers @ Svalbard No Go, Cloudy No Go, Cloudy No Go, Cloudy No Go, Cloudy No Go, Cloudy No Go, Cloudy  
Solar Wind Bz zero to North Bz zero Bz North Bz North Bz North Bz North  
Science No Science No Science No Science Indications of cusp, but too far North Indications of cusp, but too far North Indications of cusp, but too far North  

2015-11-27 (Friday)

The window is open.

Unfortunately the ground winds are too high. A storm is passing through with winds gusting to 52 mph. Winds affect our ability to launch in two ways. First if the winds are too high (>10 m/s or 22 mph)we cannot elevate the launcher without the risk of damaging the Styrofoam box around the payload. So right now the payload is not elevated to stay protected in the launcher building. Secondly, once the rocket leaves the launch rail its orientation is greatly affected by the winds (both ground and upper level). The rocket will act very much like a weather vane due to the large fins on the aft end. If we have a head wind (coming from the North) then the rocket will slowly pitch down into the wind producing a flatter trajectory. If we have a tail wind it will pitch up and we will have a higher trajectory. Basically the rocket wants to point into the wind. This is a problem in that we have a narrow corridor we need to follow. The deviations can be partially compensated for by pointing the launcher slightly off its nominal position, be we can only change by a few degrees in any direction. Thus if the winds are too high we cannot launch. Last year we had persistent winds out of the south, which is our most sensitive direction, in terms of adjustments we can make to the launcher position.

We are performing a practice countdown @ 5:40 UTC to keep everyone on their toes.

The practice count went okay, not too bad for this early in the window. But we do need to run through this again a few more times.

  4:30 UTC 5:30 UTC 6:30 UTC 7:30 UTC 8:30 UTC 9:30 UTC 10:30 UTC
Weather @ Andenes Cloudy, No Precipitation Cloudy, No Precipitation Cloudy, No Precipitation Partly Cloudy, Rain and Sleet Partly Cloudy, No Precipitation Partly Cloudy, No Precipitation scrubbed
Winds @ Andenes 16.5 m/s from the West 15.5 m/s from the West 14.5 m/s from the West 14.0 m/s from the West 10.0 m/s from the West 11 m/s from the West-southwest scrubbed
Launcher Down Down Down Down Down Down Down
Range No Go No Go No Go No Go No Go No Go No Go
Weather @ Svalbard Cloudy Cloudy Cloudy Cloudy Cloudy Cloudy scrubbed
Imagers @ Svalbard No Go No Go No Go No Go No Go No Go No Go
Solar Wind Bz South Bz Zero Bz Zero Bz Zero Bz Zero Bz North scrubbed

We have scrubbed at 10:00 UTC due to winds and lack of science.

2015-11-26 (Thursday)

Happy Thanksgiving.

Today the whole team is off in preparation for the opening of the window on Friday, and to celebrate Thanksgiving. We are all celebrating together, both rocket mission teams and some of the Norwegian crew, with a Thanksgiving dinner tonight at 4pm local time. We report to our stations tomorrow at 3am local time.

Weather-wise it's rather dreary with rain and winds.

CAPER TeamThe CAPER Team is ready for launch.

ExplosionWe start Thanksgiving with some fireworks, of sorts. There is work underway in the harbor to make it deeper. This includes the occasional underwater explosive work to break up the large rocks. All this goes on in view from our cabin window.

2015-11-25 (Wednesday)

Today started with an all hands meeting to go over operations once the launch window opens. Then we moved into a practice count to ring out all the operational issues and give the count down procedure a test drive. We encountered a few minor hiccups, but the practice count was a success.

CAPER on the launcherFor the practice count, the payload is elevated into launch position.

CAPER on the launcherCAPER is ready to go.

2015-11-24 (Tuesday)

Not much to report today. All the motors and the payload were armed so that all pyro and ignition events will occur when the payload leaves the launcher. We had a successful Flight Readiness Review. We are ready for launch, if the science and weather cooperate.

2015-11-23 (Monday)

A slow day, for us at least. The Payload crew was working to put the finishing touches on the rigging and box around the payload. Tomorrow will be much more of the same. There is another rocket mission here and they are just a day behind us, so both missions should be ready to go by Wednesday. Wednesday will be a practice count, Thursday is a day off and the whole crew here will be celebrating Thanksgiving together. The first day of the window will be Friday.

CAPER Boxed and on the railHere the payload is on the launcher and boxed up. The box is important to keep the payload warm while hanging out in the chilly Norwegian air. We don't want the propellant in the motors to be exposed to freezing temperatures.

MooseJeff finally got to see his first moose.

2015-11-22 (Sunday)

Day Off.

Jeff and I went Hiking today.

AndenesDriving down to Stave, just south of Bliek we come across the noon time sun.

AndenesThe objective of our hike was the "hidden beach". A beach surrounded by mountains on one side and the ocean.

AndenesOn our return to Andenes we are greeted by the moon-rise.

2015-11-21 (Saturday)

Today is a much nicer day, weather wise. Winds area still a bit brisk, but there is blue sky with patchy clouds. I would say sunny, but that is a relative term.

AndenesThe view from our cabin looking back across Andenes toward the range.

The only test today will be the "Boom" test. Before lunch time (local), the payload was attached to the 4th stage motor and the whole assembly carted out to the launcher. The payload and all the motors are now on the launcher. After some rigging of the umbilicals, we will power on all systems and verify; #1 nothing goes boom and #2 that all systems are still functional.

We are experiencing a minor delay because the payload got bolted on slightly off alignment, by about 2 degrees. The payload team is working to reattach the payload in the correct alignment. While we waited I took a few pictures to kill some time.

Science Trailer This is the science trailer where all the instrument teams get their data from the NASA receiver dish.

NASA TM Right next door is the NASA TM system with receiver dish that will track the rocket from liftoff till it is over the horizon. There are two other down range sights in Tromso and Longyearbyen that will pick up the telemetry a few seconds after launch once it has cleared the horizon for those receivers.

moonThe near half moon rose about 3pm local, or at least got above the clouds on the horizon. For the astronomers, if you zoom in near Sinus Iridium, you can see the western wall lit up beyond the terminator.

"Boom" test complete, and it did not go boom.

Now the motor, payload and Norwegian teams will rig up all the umbilicals and box the payload completely in styrofoam. The boxing is necessar as the propellant in the motors should never be exposed to freezing temperatures. The whole rocket will be boxed in styrofoam and heated from the aft end to maintain an acceptable temperature.

Monday and Tuesday will be down days for the science team as the crews work on the rigging and boxing. Wednesday we will perform a practice count. Thursday is a day off and Friday is the first launch attempt.

2015-11-20 (Friday)

Today we woke up to a howling North wind and sleet.

As for the payload there only a few minor tests to complete. The first is the Attitude Control System (ACS) phasing test. The ACS points the payload in the direction we want after all the motors are done with thrust. It also controls the roll rate of the payload. If we are spinning too fast the deployments of the sensor could be disastrous and if we are spinning too slow the payload could be unstable. Most of the instruments require the payload to be aligned with the local magnetic field. The phasing test verifies the correct thrusters to align to the magnetic field and roll the payload the right direction.

ACS sectionThe ACS section uses compressed Argon gas as thrusters to help align the payload to the magnetic field. The blue "bottle" is the gas cylinder under 5000 psi pressure. On the outside skin of the payload cover in by the orange Kapton tape is one of the lateral thrusters and the darker gray wart on the lower right side is the roll truster.

ACS phasing test complete!

Next comes the GPS roll-out test. Up to this point we have been cheating on the GPS receiver on payload by using an external antenna to rebroadcast into the building. The receiver has trouble locking on the GPS satellites while sitting the the building. So we roll the payload out side to verify the GPS system is functioning. This is also the first time the NASA receiver can directly see the payload telemetry. Unfortunately I don't have a picture because the driving sleet forced the team to cover the payload.

GPS phasing test complete!

That pretty much does it for today. Now the payload is ready to go to the motor staging area. The 4th stage will be attached to the payload and then rolled out to the launcher to attach to the 3rd stage which is already on the launcher. I hope to have pictures of the launcher on Monday when they let us go down there. There is one final test before the whole rocket is complete, that test has an unfortunate name, called the "Boom" test. It is a simple test, turn everything on and hope you don't hear a "Boom". The Boom test will be Saturday morning.

CAPER Motors This is a picture provided by one of the motor handling crew, loving called "Motorheads". These are the 4 motors of this 4 stage rocket. The large motor on the left is the first stage, "Talos". The second stage is on the far right, "Terrier". The third stage is in the middle, "Oriole". The fourth stage is in the front, "Nihka". Notice the fourth stage does not have fins, as this motor is ignited at a high enough altitude that stabilizing fins are useless because of the lack of atmosphere. The first two stages are surplus military motors that NASA gets for a great price. The third and fourth stages are purchased motors.

2015-11-19 (Thursday)

Today we woke up to about 1/4" of snow. This is the first snow we have seen since arriving. Normally the temperature here in Andenes hovers around freezing, some days above some days below. In all my previous trips here, there has been some snow and ice on the ground, except this time, until now . Today's snow was very wet.

snow It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

First order of business today is installation of the flight probe tips for the Langmuir probes.

Oslo Needle Probes University of Oslo needle Langmuir probes installed!

Iowa Langmuir Probes University of Iowa Langmuir probes installed!

Next is a final functional test now that everything is in flight configuration.


One last walk-down of the payload to verify we have everything documented correctly.

snow One last time to test the deployer mechanisms. This image shows the University of Iowa's Electron Energy and Pitch Angle Analyzer (EEPAA) sensor in its deployed configuration.


Installation of pyros. The pyros are small explosive devices that either cut cables or pull pins. These are used to either cut the cables that retain the booms inside the payload or in the case of two of the instruments they pull a pin that is holding the booms in their stowed position.

EEPAA with pyro installedHere the EEPAA sensor is in its stowed configuration. The orange wires are for the pyro. This one is a pin puller where a small (~1/4" diameter) pin holds the sensor arm in place during launch. When the pyro is ignited it pulls the pin back, thus freeing the sensor arm. BTW, the explosion wholly contained within the body of the pyro.

Pyro installation complete!

Nosecone installation. The last bit of assembly is to install the nosecone. Obviously the nosecone protects the payload during the thrust portion of the ascent. The nosecone is ejected just before the 4th stage of the rocket is ignited.

nosecone installation The nosecone is carefully installed over the exposed forward section of the payload.

Nosecone installation complete!

full payload We now have a fully assembled payload. Minus a few panels.

2015-11-18 (Wednesday)

Sequence test day. The first sequence test is called the "All-Fire". This is where we simulate a launch condition. There are a number of special switches on the payload that are hard wired, through lanyards, to the launcher. When the rocket starts its movement at launch, these "lanyards" pull pins on the switches that start the internal timers. The first motion of the rocket also disconnects the umbilicals. The "All-Fire" test simulates launch by manually "pulling the lanyards" to start timers and manually disconnecting the umbilicals. The final piece is that all the events functions are armed through a pressure switch. Once the rocket achieves a sufficient altitude (>10,000 ft) and the atmospheric pressure decreases enough, the pressure switch closes and allows all the timer functions. The test simulates reaching a sufficient altitude by attaching a vacuum pump to the pressure switch. If all the ignition and deployment events occur at the right time after the lanyards are pulled and the pressure switches are pumped down, then the test is successful.

All-Fire Test successful!

The next sequence test is called the "No-Fire". This is test is more a safety test. This simulates a condition where the lanyards are pulled but the payload is not at altitude. The reasoning is that while the payload is on the launcher if in the build up area and if the lanyard switches were accidentally pulled, it would disastrous to have any of the timer events occurs. The test is performed in a similar fashion to the "All-Fire", Lanyards are pulled, umbilicals disconnect, but the pressure switches are not pumped down. The test is successful if none of the timer events occur.

No-Fire Test successful!

The final sequence test is called "Power Backup". Nominally all systems are powered at launch. If for some reason a system is shut off inadvertently before launch, when the lanyard are pulled all systems will be powered back up. For this test, all systems are off and when the lanyard is pulled they should all be immediately powered on.

No-Fire Test successful!

Now all the payload sections will be mated and bolted together.


payload assembled And now it is starting to look like a payload. Standing next to the payload are Erik and Caroline. Erik is the electrical technician who wired up almost all the payload. Caroline is the payload electrical engineer. She is filling in for the original engineer Jorge who could not make this trip.

The coating of the spheres.... The electric fields are measured using what is called the double probe technique. It is as simple as measuring the voltage difference (V, ala a voltmeter) between two points in space. Knowing the distance (d) between the two points, you can get the electric field E=-V/d. The trick is achieving the required sensitivity. For CAPER, the measurement comes from multiple pairs of aluminum spheres. Since aluminum oxidizes very quickly, the effectiveness of the aluminum to contact the plasma is degraded slightly, what we call the work function. This can vary from surface to surface of the spheres, it produces an unwanted offset in the measurement. Since it is virtually impossible to make the surfaces of the sphere identically clean, we do the opposite and make them identically dirty. This is achieved by coating the spheres with graphite, in a process we lovingly call "coating the spheres".


coated e-field spheres I will paint any sphere, any color for $19.95.

2015-11-17 (Tuesday)

After looking through our schematics we are confident our little mishap from yesterday did not damage any of the systems. However we did have to remove the the skin from the instrument section to perform a functional test.

UPDATE: The test was successful, we dodged a bullet. The payload is now back to the status it was at the end of yesterday. We are waiting to hear if we will run the sequence test this evening or tomorrow morning.

The sequence test is where the payload runs all the internal timers, simulating a launch. This is done to check and verify that everything occurs at the correct time. It would not be good to miss an important payload event or have one occur out of sequence.

2015-11-16 (Monday)

Preparation for sequence testing. Not much going on as the NASA team is getting things ready for testing. This was one of the clearest days so far so I got out and took some pictures of the area. Late Monday we ran into a problem in testing. Two connectors were swapped. Now we will spend much of Tuesday verifying we don't have any damage and retesting systems.

Mountains behind the rocket range. This is looking from the harbor at Andenes, back toward the range.

Mountains across the sea. This is looking from Andenes, back toward the Norwegian mainland. Andenes is located on a cluster islands just off the main coast of Norway.

Noon in Andenes. This what early afternoon looks like in Andenes. This was taken about 1:00 local time. Soon the sun will not rise above the horizon.

Sciece team waiting for data. After a down morning/afternoon, the science team is back to work to look at data in preparation for the sequence test. This is where we discovered the problem.

More Aurora tonight.

Aurora on the horizon. Some aurora on the horizon. I took this while we waited for time to turn the payload on.

Faint aurora with some satellite tracks. Some faint green aurora with two satellites tracking through the image. I was not expecting the satellites, but pleasantly surprised.

Star field with the coat hanger asterism.For my amateur astronomy friends, as I was working to focus my camera using the stars I catch a famous asterism by chance. Can you see the coat hanger? Hint it is up side down.

2015-11-15 (Sunday)

Another day off.

2015-11-14 (Saturday)

A day off. We went to Sortland, about 1 hour 30 minutes away from Andenes. Sortland has a mall!

Mountain range on the trip to Sortland One of the many mountain ranges we drove past on the way to Sortland.

2015-11-13 (Friday)

Revisited calibration measurements for verification.  Performed the final inspection of the experiment section.  Installed the skin on experiment section. 

Experiment section with the skin on. Experiment section with the skin on. The skin is the main structural support of the payload. It is machined out of large cylindrical aluminum ingots.

TM section with the skin on. Telemetry section with the skin on. This is the heart of the payload, this section includes all the batteries and transmitters to transmit the data. The gray bands around the circumference of the payload are the antennas. The orange cable draped over the payload is a set of the umbilical cables used to control the payload before launch. At launch the cables pull away as the rocket leaves the launcher, then it's all running autonomously.

2015-11-12 (Thursday)

Calibration day. This day was devoted to calibrating all the measurements now that all the systems were installed and in the final flight configuration.

2015-11-11 (Wednesday)

Installed sensor and electronics on the payload.  Began experiment checkout.

EEPAA Installation The EEPAA sensor. This sensor is key to one of our primary measurements. It is commonly know as a "top hat" style sensor, though not because it looks like a top hat. It measures the energy and direction of electrons. The same electrons that produce the aurora.

Speaking of aurora, there was some nice aurora tonight.

Aurora.Aurora, though slightly out of focus. I'm still getting used to this camera. This was a nice display, there was red and purple visible with the naked eye and a lot of motion.

2015-11-10 (Tuesday)

Arrived in Andenes in the afternoon and started unpacking all our equipment.