The Downrange Station

DSC_8185Yesterday, CSBF engineer Chris Field and I traveled to Winslow, Arizona, to set up the downrange station. This small field station enables communication with the balloon once it is out of range of the antennas at Fort Sumner, and thus allows for a longer flight. Winslow is about 300 miles west of Fort Sumner, and the downrange station roughly doubles the distance that can be covered by the balloon. The station consists of a trailer and a small building located at the airport in Winslow. Antennas are mounted on the roof of the trailer, which is filled with electronics. The small one-room building next to the trailer provides space for scientists to set up their computers, which is what I did while Chris set up the CSBF equipment. During the flight we can connect to our Winslow computer from Fort Sumner via the Internet to access our telemetry data in real time. Additionally, the downrange station will be manned by David Kotsifakis from Wallops Flight Facility, as a back-up in case of issues with the Internet connection. After everything was set up, Chris fed telemetry data into our system that was recorded on tape the previous day during our tests at Fort Sumner. This allowed us to test the setup.

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Since Winslow is a six-hour drive from Fort Sumner, we took the CSBF aircraft, a King Air 90. The King Air is a twin-engine turbo-prop plane that is also used as a chase plane. At the end of a balloon flight, the chase plane will communicate with air traffic control, and after the payload lands, guide the recovery team. It also provides communication with the payload, should the link from Fort Sumner fail.

Now we are set up for a long flight, ahead of  turn-around conditions in the stratosphere, which will carry the balloon first west and then back east.  All that is left to be done is the final compatibility test between our instrument and the CSBF flight electronics. After that, we wait for good launch weather.

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