Moving House – the Essential Workshop

Building a New Workshop in Limited Space.

Warning – mess in progress!

It seems simple – move house, but setting up my home office and rebuilding my aerospace workshop has been a demanding exercise, but we are on the last legs of the work. The workshop requires a lot of connectivity and power. It is a last ditch line of defense against loss of power and connectivity. So what does it have:

  • 240 volt mains power
  • 2 banks of 48v batteries
  • 2 x 12v feeds (from the 48v batteries via 2 down inverters)
  • 240 volt AC inverter
  • Provision for solar power DC (coming)
  • A wired data link to one of our Internet Service Providers (ISPs) – we have 2 x ADSL and one via cable
  • A dedicated PC
  • Off air TV and links to my NAT and media server
  • Links to my 2 digital TV records and receivers
  • HF, VHF and UHF antennas
  • HF 100w HAM transceiver
  • APRS Kenwood D710 UHF and VHF transceiver
  • Test equipment.
  • Video surveillance (and its recording media and interface to the Internet is not necessarily in the garage).
  • Oh yes, tools of course and a small bar refrigerator for summer
  • Also soon we will have an air compressor and a power generator.

In fact we have less space than at our old house, but we will have much better facilities. This means it is currently hard to place the tools anywhere until we are finished, but you will get the idea of what it will look like. Jason and I will have opposite sides of a workbench. At the moment a smaller bench top is in place to make it easy during construction.

In the picture below you can see the smaller workbench covered with tools and construction gear. Also you can see the two racks for power and radio equipment. Beside them you can see the sets of small draws for small objects. Behind the workbench are some of the test equipment and lab power supplies, speakers and some of the outlets that will go on the strip of word below the shelf. The bench top will be twice as wide as the one shown here. Under the all in one PC in the left side of the shelving, you can see Jason’s HF radio and antenna tuner.

It takes a while to set this all up. Please excuse the mess for one more week until finished.

Workshop being built

Below you will see the wooden strip that will house a variety of inputs and outputs. I am holding one unit with 3 stereo inputs or outputs, an “N” connector and 2 earth points. As I will be drilling out the wood, I will not need the mounting blocks so the panels will be flush with the wooden surface. Other units have a variety of RF connectors, RJ45 data connectors, switched 12 v outlets, switched 50V outlets, Speaker connectors, USB connectors, mains connectors and much more. I was drilling the holes in the wood for the panels when I took this photo – you can see the sawdust below the panel on the next shelf down.

DSCF2108

Below I have secured power boards, audio amplifiers and a data switch under the shelf to save space. Below the data switch and to the right you can see one of the units to go on the wooden panel. It has the RJ45 and the switched 12 supply – these are connected via circuit breaker of course. You can see the LED to indicate that power is present.

Workshop being built

Below: Of course what every aerospace workshop needs – a good supply of helium gas.

Workshop being built helium bottles

I will revisit the workshop when finished and you will see the final outcome. This is a work in progress and although there is a lot of stuff on the workbench, this will disappear as we become more organised. Soon we will have peg board to hang the large tools and better organisation of the stuff currently stored in boxes.

At the Mercy of the Winds

Forcast for upLift-20Adverse Winds Delay UpLift-20

It seems that we cannot win when planning some balloon flights due to unfavourable or adverse winds. Whilst UpLift-19 was very straight forward, I have had to postpone our next weather balloon flight by 2 weeks so far – that is two delays and who knows what is going to happen after that. It seems that we might need to make a determination a day at a time a week out.

What has caused this delay. Well other than aircraft maneuvers over the area, it is the wind. Our launch point is fixed as the landing area is determined by the launch point and we have a range that is covered by Telstra broadband and has few trees or water.

In this case the water is the big problem. We simply do not launch when the winds are taking us to the lakes area. We did overfly this area once, but not at a high altitude where the balloon would burst. So why do we worry about those little blue areas? Basically because they are not so little. on Google earth they in fact look like dry areas. It turns out that we discovered the unusual nature of the lakes during one of our earlier flights in the UpLift series. When we recovered the pictures from UpLift-2 we saw a massive lake that was simply not showing on the maps. Well it was there in name only. Here is what the balloon payload saw:

Fat Lady Lake UpLift-2

Above: They say it is not all over until the “fat lady sings”. We spotted this lake (normally dry) and my son Jason said it looks like a fat lady! Since the balloon had popped and it was descending on parachute, I guess she was singing! She also looks like she has burst a gasket singing the highs. Note that there are more lakes to its left at the bottom centre of the photo. There are also lakes to the north, out of view. Recovery of payloads would be near impossible in these lakes.

Below: As a reminder of the problems with water, our balloon payload parachuted straight to the only large farmer’s dam in the area and landed less than half a metre from the water. ouch! That’s our ballooning friends, Todd and Mark next to the payload. I have blanked out the actual payload box as it was a commercial flight that required secrecy. We can now inform you that it was the test flight for Bulla’s Frozen Yogurt “Cloud 9”. We eventually send balloons into the stratosphere to freeze yogurt in the clouds. There were 12 flights and 12 recoveries.

UpLift-2

So what else can postpone a launch when all else is going right?   Last flight a few weeks back, we encountered 40kph winds (25mph) and that was a shock to the system after traveling 7 hours by car and staying overnight in a nearby town. We were lucky to find some protection from the wind, but the wind sheer as the balloon rose past the protection could have ripped the balloon apart. We were lucky. Note the cameras on the ground, One at Mark’s feet. They got flung off on impact. We now tie them on with a lanyard to make sure that we do not lose them.

We always carry enough gas for a second launch if the balloon pops before launch, but it is something we do not want to think about. It has happened once! always having two balloons is not good business if you don’t really use it before the expiry date. Some larger balloons cost hundreds of dollars.

Watch the weather and use prediction software for the stratospheric wind details.

Space Chicken? Not Quite.

Space Chicken Flight Matches our RecordUpLift-19 Space Chicken

UpLift-19 continues our incredible success in launching and recovering payloads. That is 19 launches in the UpLift series and 19 recoveries. UpLift-19 was a bit of a record breaker for us in that it is the smallest of our balloons to reach 1/3 the way to space. Yes, that is right, 1/3 the way to space with a 1.25 kilogram payload. So not quite a space chicken, but what is in a few words said our customer.That is 2.75lbs for those few countries still using outdated measurements systems. I think that there are three left out of step with the world! (I do like to have a gentle dig at my US friends). Oh yeh – our first chicken too.

We managed to reach exactly the same height with a 3Kg balloon that we launched in Croatia, but that was carrying 2.5Kgs of payload. So what else was so special about the flight. Well, we cracked the best method of doing photography and have our clearest and most colourful shots ever taken from a balloon flight! It is hard to say what we like best about the flight, but it was a flight that we never thought would get of the ground. We had to launch in 40kph winds. Errhhh, that is 25mph for my non metric friends. That is 22 knots and please note that knots are acceptable in the metric world as they are not imperial measurements, but linked closely with dividing up the world into useable chunks – from the old sailing days.

Rankins Springs launch site UpLift-19 The flight was commissioned by Clinton Toyota and we carried 3 cameras and 2 trackers and some science experiments. We used our Spot3 tracking for the commercial requirements and provided a secondary private payload where we added an APRS tracker and some experiments. The APRS tracker gives good data above the ground where the commercial stuff is pinpointed with the SPOT3 as it will give precise coordinates when it is one the ground. We use a simple one ring gimbal to ensure that the antenna always has a view of the sky and the satellites that it uses to communicate position. For the commercial aspects, that is all that is needed – to recover the payload and cameras. The APRS invariably stops communicating anything up to 1km from the ground, depending on how close it lands to a HAM radio APRS receiver. We launched from Rankins Springs, NSW – our main launch site. It gives a clear area over most of the flight with little water or little in the way of forests to get in the way. The tracking is good on APRS for all of the flight above 700m at launch. We test the radios are fully functional before letting go. I also realised after launch that my old call sign was on the balloon. That probably confused a lot of people. My fault, but I will rectify that for the next flight.

The winds were over 40kph and we could not see a way to launch until i spotted a solid line of tall trees on the other side of the sports oval. We repacked our equipment and set up in the light wind behind the trees. It worked, but that was with the wind from the north. Usually southerly winds are the problem, so we will watch carefully for weather conditions for future flights and I have a few sites around town picked out if we get caught again.

Rankins Springs launch site UpLift-19The local primary school (Rankins Springs) came out in force to hear us talk about what we were doing and a bit of fun and science. They came back for the release of the balloon. My son Jason wore his School uniform as he was representing the school for the science experiments that were being launched. He attends Sydney Secondary College, Balmain Campus.

We completed the payload frame, made from light wood (4 x 1.2m lengths) in the hotel room the night before release and it held together very well with no damage, despite a heavy landing due to the parachute getting rather twisted up and spiraling down.

IMG_3081This meant that we were not at the site where we thought it would land and we had about a half hour drive to reach the site once we realised the problem. In essence the balloon traveled east in the jet stream at speeds of up to 130kph and then broke into the stratosphere and stopped any horizontal movement. As it climbed into the stratophere it picked up speed and traveled to the west reaching 100kph at the point the balloon burst. That was an altitude of 33.333KM – 1/3 the way to space. As I said, this exactly matched our Croatian record where we had a 2.5Kg payload and a 3Kg balloon. The free fall saw a top speed, in the upper atmosphere where the air is thin, of 400kph. That was with a parachute and a rather non-streamlined pyramid frame. That was about 1/3 of the speed of the sound barrier at sea level. I can’t wait for future flights were we will build payloads designed to fly super fast in thin air. Watch out for our attempt to break the sound barrier with a small Radio Controlled aircraft. There will be a few records broken that day. Note in the picture (left) the bubble wrap used as an insulator for the batteries and trackers.

IMG_3073That is Jason holding the balloon during the fill. Notice the cotton gloves. We use these to protect the balloon or we use latex gloves, but they really make my hands too sweaty for my liking. We measured the balloons lift with a set of luggage scales – digital – and they have a “hold” button to make it easier to turn the hand held strain gauge over and see the reading.

This flight we used a new cutdown system that uses a UHF radio (1.4 watts) and a 10 channel modulation system. It should work up to 100km, but we are yet to test it at the extremes. The unit does work on all tests on the ground and this flight we did not have to terminate the balloon other than it bursting.

By the way, Clintons Toyota had a special “Clinton’s” jacket made to keep the chicken warm during the flight, but I doubt the toy mascot needed to worry about the cold. It probably experienced about -50 to -60C in the jet stream. That’s -58 to -76F for my US friends.

Bel;ow are some more photos of the flight. I hope that you appreciate the great leap in photographic quality and that you also appreciate the careful work that I have done to ensure that we recover each and every flight. It is always a challenge to keep our record at 100% recovery. Once we lose a payload, we can never again claim 100% success rate for all of our flights.

DCIM100GOPRO

Above: Jason and I give the payload a bit of close scrutiny before launch, caught by one of the payload cameras. Posing with the Space Chicken!

Rankins Springs launch site UpLift-19

Above: You can see the wheat and canola fields up here!!!

UpLift-19 Space Chicken

Above: Our Space Chicken at 33.333Km

Rankins Springs Free Fall UpLift-19

Above: Our Space Chicken in a 400kph free fall.

Rankins Springs Sunny UpLift-19

Above:  I hope I slip, slopped, slapped enough before the flight! The sun is bright up here.

Editor’s Note. We do not approve of the term “Space” Chicken from a scientific viewpoint as it is not space, but the company that contracted us to launch the balloon decided to use the term:
http://www.macarthuradvertiser.com.au/story/2562196/space-chook-takes-history-making-journey