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.