It's a Bird, it's a Plane, no, it's HiWIND

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

In February, 2018, a specialized engineering team, led by principal investigator Dr. Qian Wu, traveled from Boulder, Colorado to a NASA facility in Palestine, Texas. The team spent two weeks working with NASA colleagues performing compatibility testing between the HiWIND electrical systems and the NASA balloon command and control communications systems.

Hi-Wind team image
HAO Team (L to R: Scott Sewell, Peter Yee, Alice Lecinski, Nicole Ela, Rob Graves, Bart Woodiel, and Qian Wu) installing the Fabry-Perot instrumental observatory (the bare aluminum cylinder) within the upper gondola structure (white tubing sections) all of which hang from the lifting "trapeze." The upper portion of the HAO trapeze connects to the NASA lifting block (connected temporarily to red webbing and a hanger-gantry-crane-lift system). Also shown in the upper section are the two perpendicular antenna booms on which are mounted a variety of GPS, TDRSS, and IRIDIUM antennae.
Peter Yee and Rob Graves image
Team members Peter Yee and Rob Graves shown, L to R, mounting the "DIMS-RADIANCE" CubeSat prototype instrument within the HiWIND lower-gondola-extension wing bay. This is a "piggyback mission" allowing some early stage testing of a low-cost solar irradiance measurement system being developed by HAO engineer and principal investigator Phil Oakley.
Nicole Ela image
HAO Engineer Nicole Ela, in the midst of performing a calibration of the HiWIND GPS receiver.
Hi-Wind fit-to-fly image
A happy team after HiWIND pronounced "fit-to-fly” by NASA. L to R: Qian Wu, Nicole Ela, Arlo Johnson, Scott Sewell, Alice Lecinski, Bart Woodiel, Peter Yee, and Rob Graves.

Prior to testing, and once the gondola was assembled, numerous specialized instruments were mounted and installed on the gondola structure. This instrumentation included the DIMS-RADIANCE CubeSat prototype, a low-cost solar irradiance measurement system being developed by HAO engineer and principal investigator Phil Oakley. Phil supervised the design and build of DIMS by a group of aerospace engineering students at the University of Colorado in Boulder as part of a capstone senior year course sequence. NASA's "Low Cost Access to Space" program provides funding for both HiWIND and DIMS. The HiWind relaunch, planned for May–June 2018, is the perfect opportunity to test DIMS capabilities 40 km above the surface of the earth.

While in Palestine, the HAO team also installed the Fabry-Perot airborne observatory within the upper gondola structure. In addition, Nicole Ela, HAO's newest engineer, performed a calibration of the HiWIND GPS receiver. She used four antennae mounted to booms above the gondola and a Magellan ADU5 receiver to establish a calibration that, during flight, will monitor the position, heading, and velocity of the HiWIND observatory as it acquires science data. Finally, the team verified that the solar panels are able to charge the battery system and provide power for the entire system once airborne.

According to Dr. Wu, HiWIND is unique from other ground-based Fabry-Perot interferometer instruments because it can measure thermospheric winds during daylight hours. Thermospheric winds are critically important for understanding the variations in the ionosphere. Part of the motivation for this second 2018 HiWIND mission is to confirm results obtained from the previous HiWIND flight in 2011. Another motivation, he explained, is that current modeling tools are more sophisticated and should result in improved data analysis. Dr. Wu said, “There are many things we still don’t know about the ionosphere in the polar region, and the new observations (from HiWIND) will certainly advance our research here at HAO.” This time around there will be more collaboration with ground-based incoherent radars from American (SRI) and European (EISCAT) research institutes. This will provide additional research resources for improved data interpretation. These ground-based radar instruments will run simultaneously with the launch of HiWIND. Unique to this relaunch of HiWIND are two new instruments mounted on the gondola, DIMS (described earlier) from HAO, and BARREL from a consortium of universities led by Dartmouth College. BARREL will perform x-ray measurements examining particle precipitation.

The team wrapped up its time in Palestine by preparing the gondola for shipping to Kiruna, Sweden where the balloon will launch in the May–June time frame. Once in Kiruna, it could take a couple of weeks for the team to assemble the gondola and install the instrumentation. Once the instrument is ready, the team will wait for very calm weather conditions for balloon launch.

As said by Dr. Wu, “This project has been truly a team collaboration and I give credit to HAO team members Scott Sewell, Nicole Ela, Rob Graves, Alice Lecinski, and Phil Oakley. I also want to thank our consultants Pete Nelson, Lee Sutherland, Bart Woodiel, and Peter Yee. The NCAR logistic team, led by Joe Lujan, provided crucial support as well. EOL DFS fabricated many of the HiWIND parts and facilitated moving of the HiWIND containers. They all contributed a great deal to making this project a success." HiWIND is supported by the NASA Heliophysics program.