Friday, June 18, 2010

The DC-8 returns

The past days we have spent quite some time trying to calibrate our equipment. One of the least successful attempts was the one we did the night after Hayabusa returned. We were supposed to calibrate while enjoying the following view:
It is hard not to notice the terrible amount of light in the back. Our cameras neither missed the presence of those lights. The result was a large amount of data and still no calibrated cameras.

On the transit flight to Hawaii we just missed the sunset. Which would have been really great to observe using our equipment. We did get to see Venus set in the evening sky. A really nice calibration opportunity that also gives a nice view. Notice the moon and Venus in the upper right of the image on the right. The observations went well and the big lens even showed craters on the moon!

The journey from Hawaii to Lancaster was taken in record time due to heavy tailwind. This ment we could go for another calibration attempt, but now at the DC-8's home base. Conditions were perfect, but now TERAS was giving us troubles again. Only partial calibration results were obtained. In combination with the observations of a setting Venus, which is also useful for determining atmospheric extinction, we should however be fine.

After getting our equipment removed from the airplane it was moved into the lab for a final calibration round under perfect conditions. At the moment we have everything packed up so we can send our equipment on its way back to Europe tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Images from DC8 preparation

New high-res movie on Youtube

Peter Jenniskens put a video on Youtube which was made by Jesse Carpenter and Greg Merkes of NASA Ames Research Center. The video shows the breaking up of the bus in much more detail. Notice how some of the fragments slow down so quickly once they separate: these are too light for the speed they travel and drag slows them down almost instantly. Also see how the capsule with hopefully the samples from Itokawa isn't bothered by the havoc that happends behind it and travels is a smooth trajectory. The flaring in the head of the bus is so bright that unofrtunate a bright blob obscures what is happening in the head. I hope that the LIME high frame rate imagery will be able to show more detail in that area.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hayabusa returns

When we entered the airplane for actual the observation mission we still had to resolve the problems we encountered the night before. Removing a broken hard disk solved our problems, all 4 cameras were recording! Earlier that day we did the final calculations and fixed the parameters to be used at observation time. An hour before re-entry we were ready to record it at maximum capacity.

Calibration images were taken, the window was checked for icing, and then we could do nothing else than wait. Entering the observation track In Coma Bernices, the star field to aim for, was easily found. The second round went fine too. Waiting for the final round felt like taking an eternity. We were able to pick up Hayabusa quite early on its track. The was predicted accurately by computational models. Tracking went perfect and we could follow Hayabusa's path for a long time. The brightness of the capsule was a bit higher then calculated. Something we  were prepared for with our high framerate cameras. All cameras acquired data, but after only half a second the camera with the big lens stopped recording. It had not given us any problems during preparations, unlike the other cameras. The other three cameras did give us very nice data. Today we will do the final calibrations for that.

We are very pleased with the successfull observation of the spectacular return of Hayabusa to earth!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

First footage of Hayabusa re-entry

First footage was published through the NASA website. A small outtake was already published through YouTube:

As you can see the capsule separates cleanly from the rest of the vehicle that then disintegrates. I can't wait to see the rest of the data that has been gathered by the LIME team and the other teams! A sharper version of the footage can be found as an AVI and on this webpage.

Many tech news sites picked up on the succesful re-entry, such as Slashdot, Discovery News and Gizmodo.

The final test flight

One could only hear the sound of the engine of the minivan as it took us to the airport. The night of June 12th was the night of the final test flight. In the briefing before the final track, flight path and star charts were reviewed one more time. Everyone was clearly tense. Hoping for a good night.

Setting up the equipment and recording went fine. Finding the star cluster where Hayabusa should first be visible for us needed a couple of rounds on the race track because our pointing camera was not able to spot the brighter stars that we would like to have used  to fix our orientation. The window frame was in the way. Realizing this we could finally find the star cluster, which appeared rather dim on the virtual reality headset. The recordings looked fine.

When we left the racetrack to head back in a 90 minute flight to Melbourne the system failed again on us. Possibly because of a power glitch. We will have a few hours left to get it all sorted out before the actual re-entry of Hayabusa. This will take place on June 13th around midnight. Live video feeds will be available. For more information see the Official SETI blog.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Hawaii was just the first hop on our journey to Australia. The evening of June 10th the DC8 took off to take us in a 12 hour flight to Melbourne.

Soon after takeoff the instruments were mounted in front of the optical grade windows to get ready for testing the equipment. After a few hours of testing the ball mount got disconnected. We took the cameras away from the window and investigated what the problem was. A missing bolt… The result was that we could not do any further tests with the cameras an we had to go find the bolt somewhere in Australia. After landing at the airport in Melbourne 5 canisters of DEET were emptied before anyone could exit the airplane. An empty airport awaited us when we entered Australia.

June 11th, we found the bolt in a specialized shop and installed everything in the airplane. It had been raining all day and, probably due to condensation, the floor around the rack holding our equipment was completely wet. We were happy to find out everything is still working. The rain was also the cause of cancelation of the calibration for that night.

Friday, June 11, 2010


With a friendly Aloha! Peter Jenniskens welcomed the members of the Hayabusa re-entry MAC to Hawaii as the DC8 landed at the military airport in the early morning of June 9th. The flight before was very exciting. Three out of four camera's were recording correctly and we were able to spot Venus! To be able to do this the flight crew had to guide the airplane on a course away from Hawaii because Venus was rising on the wrong side of the airplane. There was a 5 minute time window to observe and record Venus, a really exciting moment! It was hard to track the bright spot in the sky as the airplane made a bank to get back on its track to Hawaii. The reason for that is the large amount of cables connected to the cameras. We will have to come up with a better method of managing those cables. The restriction of only being able to record three cameras, which all produce an enormous amount of data, seemed to be a bandwidth problem. Right after landing we were escorted off the military base to head towards the Hotel. A part of the data is already copied to an external disk. This data will be used for further tuning later this week.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

More press

The Hayabusa Re-entry MAC made its way to Christina appeared on a photo accompanying a press release on the NASA website.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tarmac tests

Monday June 7th started off with reinstalling everything we took out of the airplane back into its original location. The DC8 was already parked outside for the tarmac tests that would be done later that evening. The blazing sun made the airplane into a sauna and the washing of the flight suits, which occurred over the weekend, spurious. Nevertheless we had our system back up and running in time for the calibrations. Although, so it seemed.

Having the windows and lenses cleaned, we did a final check of the recording system - leaving us with the following image on the screen:

a blue screen of death… After that not all cameras came back up. As a result the night ended with only 2 cameras calibrated. The high speed camera with the 400mm lens (the large one) did however work and we will most likely have another chance to calibrate our system later this week in Melbourne.

In the middle of the night, on our way back to the hotel, we had a conversation with Tech5, the developer of the TERAS instrument to figure out how to solve our problems. They responded immediately, so we can now try to get things sorted out during the transfer flight to Hawaii.

Hawaii will be the place where we will spend the night and refuel, after which we will head for Melbourne. During these flights some extra time is available to get our setup, called TERAS (monster in greek), back into shape.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Setup is working

Friday's test flight led us to dismount a part of our setup so we could work on it over the weekend. At Sunday night 1:00 we finally had everything working. Cameras are nicely aligned and we can pick up the spectra of the lights acros the street. The grating is now neatly attached to the lens of one of our cameras. This camera is tilted upwards such that we can observe high resolution spectra.

Tomorrow the tarmac calibrations will take place. Before those tests we will need to reinstall all equipement we took out back into the airplane. It will be an exciting day!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

First test flight

The past days we have been working quite hard in order to get ready for Friday's test flight. The pilots managed to keep Venus, the star that is our main test object in the sky, in the center of the window. Pointing the set of cameras in the right direction worked fine as well. Not everything went as planned. We had major problems with ice forming on the optical grade windows and not all of our cameras that should spot Venus were able to do so. Next to that there are still some problems with the recording software. Hopefully we can resolve these issues over the weekend.

On June 3 the pilots needed the DC8 for some time. Not being able to work in the airplane, we had a tour in the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). This Boeing 747SP is stationed in the same hangar as the DC8 we use for our observations. It captured its first light, imaging Jupiter, just a week ago. The tour was kindly guided by prof. Eric Becklin, chief scientist of SOFIA.
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Friday, June 4, 2010

More press for LIME team

Dutch press has picked up on the interview in the Cursor. News about the LIME involvement reached the national daily Telegraaf, the Dutch news website and local newspaper Eindhovends Dagblad.

Working around the clock…

Because of the jetlag the day of June 2nd started pretty early. The day at the base started with a progress meeting and planning of the test flight route. The route shown below will allow us to calibrate the cameras by imaging Venus, which will have approximately the same brightness as Hayabusa will have.

After the meeting we entered the airplane, which had been flown at night for weight balancing tests, to prepare for the ground based calibration that would take place later that day. The calibration started at twilight, which does provide nice views.

Things did not really go as planned, a failing computer, misaligned cameras, etc. Peter Jenniskens did find some time to help us out, which was welcome because we decided to install a new grating in the 400mm lens (the largest one we have). Such a grating allows us to do spectroscopy of the re-entry. Working till 4:00 in the morning left us with a working computer but still failing recording software.
Bart adjusting ball mount Peter Jenniskens installing grating
Because the airplane needs to be tested on June 3rd, we face quite a challenge at getting things up and running in time. The good thing about working till late is dat we automatically adjust towards Australian time, where we will head next week.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Article in University Newspaper

The weekly newspaper of the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) today published an article about LIME's involvement with the Hayabusa mission. It can also be read online.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Arrival in Lancaster

This morning I took the train to Amsterdam with as notable luggage a 15kg power supply - the one that was missing in the shipment. Christina arrived at Schiphol by airplane from Vienna. After our arrival at Schiphol the power supply became a little less noticeable thanks to Jason, who handed us a box with the following contents:
Lens box

A Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8 G ED VR lens! Click the image to get a feeling of how large it is. Needless to say this piece of equipment is pretty expensive. We therefore took it as hand luggage to the US. This lens was lent to us by Lambda-X, an expert company in optical instruments. They are currently developing an even faster camera than the one we use during this mission. Hopefully we will use it in the future!

After the usual US border control we spent a little time at customs to make sure the lens will make it back to Eindhoven.

Arrival in the US did not exactly mean rest for us. We immediately went on to Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility (DOAF) to get security clearance and get started to install the new lens. This involved drilling some extra holes in the camera holder, setting up the RAID array, etc. After doing quite some work we left the NASA facility for our hotel (where we still had to check in) leaving the camera setup like this: