NSL-44 was launched the morning of April 6, 2016 from Creekside Elementary School
in Durham, as part of their annual Science Week. Paul Thompson organized the event and also designed/built the payload. Paul Lowell acted as adviser and brought along the NCNS launch kit. Rich and Will, two of the parents, led the chase crew.
A few days before the launch, the team met to select a launch day -- April 6 was predicted to be clear; and have the most favorable jet stream and ground winds.
The payload, dubbed "Eagle One", consisted of a clear plastic container with black foam inside holding:
-Two surplus civil defense pen-style dosimeters (high-level and low-level)
-AP510 APRS GPS tracker
-TK102B cell-phone based GPS tracker
-An 'Action Shot' camera looking up taking video
-An 'Action Shot' camera looking out taking stills
-An 808 #3 (?) camera with extended LiPo battery taking 4x3 video looking out
-An MD-80 camera looking down for video
This was connected to a surplus signal flare chute and a 600g balloon. Hydrogen was used to give >2050g of neck lift.
It was a unusually cold morning with frost on the school's activity field as the team set up for launch. The students filed-out from their homerooms and provided the launch countdown. Several students then released the payload and it took off quickly. The low-level winds were indeed calm, so it shot upwards over the school. The students continued to track it well past 15,000 feet... then it was back to class.
A small portion of the assembled students seen just after launch
Rich and Will then loaded up their cars, gathered their kids, and headed east -- transmitting their locations via the Habhub Chase Car app. Back at the school, the two Pauls operated Mission Control and kept the school updated on the progress.
As the payload headed east, its ground speed picked up (70mph!). The payload was dragged sideways at times and had a rather turbulent ascent. While most of the east coast was covered in clouds, there was a clear pocket around central NC. But as the payload ascended it was evident that there was quite a bit of haze, and numerous jet contrails.
Albemarle Sound in the distance through the haze.
Over Zebulon, NC, looking back towards Durham
The payload made it to 99,218 feet before burst.
Mission Control tracked descent rate and was pleased to find no sign of chute tangles. The chase crew positioned themselves at the predicted landing site, precariously near a swamp.
In the last 1000 feet, thankfully, the winds died and the payload descended straight down on to the shoulder of NC-97 about 1 mile into Nash county...
...just a few feet from a passing truck! [These are video stills, fractions of a second before landing.]
Payload spotted in a tree !! Will and Rich as seen from the payload
The team was happy with this successful flight, and although they just missed 100,000 feet, at least it didn't land at the top of a tree, or in the swamp.
"The high level dosimeter recorded an exposure of 5 roentgens. The low level meter recorded much less, about 5 milli-roentgens." Paul Thompson notes, "the difference may have to do with the position inside the box; the mR meter was down at the bottom, under layers of foam rubber and the plastic box shell. The R meter was at the top."
The MD-80 camera had a wonky on/off switch, so we missed out on downward facing video. The outward facing 808 and the still camera continued to operate well after recovery. The upward facing video camera, as expected, ran out of battery before burst, but provided great views. All together, the flight returned about 5 hours of video and thousands of photos to dig through.
This was the first local flight of a TK102B cell-based tracker. It is expected that these type of devices should not operate over 600m above the ground; and that was backed-up by this flight. Once close to the ground; though, the tracker worked well. The chase crew could call the TK102B's phone number and then hang up. A moment later, they would receive a text from the device with not only the Lat/Long, but a nice Google Maps URL to click on. (Often APRS signals close to the ground are not repeated to the APRS network. Chasers must bring along Ham radio gear to locate the payload exactly.) The TK102B makes for a small, lightweight, $30, backup tracker.
NSL-44 fits a typical HAB flight profile. A lot of turbulence was seen on ascent. By minimizing dead air space inside the payload, it was kept warm for the trip.
Creekside Science Night