At 6:10 PM local time on January 6 of this year, BLAST-TNG began its first flight. Most of our systems worked flawlessly and we carried out the first-ever observations using microwave kinetic inductance detectors (MKIDs) from a NASA sub-orbital platform. However, a mechanical failure occurred 14 hours into the flight, preventing us from pointing the telescope and severely curtailing our observing program. We then brought the experiment down, landing on the Antarctic plateau a few hundred km away. The recovery operation is underway, and most components of the experiment have been brought back to McMurdo Station. Some critical parts are still at the landing site awaiting recovery, hopefully any day now. Despite our disappointment at not achieving our goals for the flight, our team is eager to analyze the data we did collect and begin rebuilding for future flights!
We carried out six launch attempts between December 25 and January 4 – these six were canceled due to high or unsteady low-level winds. Photo is from December 28 when we made it as far as the launch pad. The stratospheric circulation pattern is expected to die out in a week or two, so fingers crossed for a launch very soon.
We attached our experiment to the NASA launch vehicle and worked with NASA engineers to look for interference between NASA’s communications and control systems and our experiment’s functions. No problems were found – we are flight ready! Now all depends on the weather. Fingers crossed for a launch opportunity soon!
BLAST-TNG goes outside for communications tests – which were successful! Our team has been very busy over the past several weeks. We’ve cooled our 850 lbs. cryogenic polarimeter (red object in photo), mounted it back onto the telescope, and carried out numerous systems tests. We are nearly flight ready, and the one experiment ahead of us in the line-up – called superTIGER – was successfully launched yesterday. Fingers crossed for good launch conditions!
First BLAST-TNG collaborators arrive in Antarctica to take the experiment out of storage and prepare it for a December launch! This photo, taken from the C-17, shows our team’s first view of Antarctica in almost a year. Its been a long wait following last year’s bad weather and four scrubbed launch attempts, and we are all eager to get out to the Long Duration Ballooning site and get to work.
Ian and Nate were the first of the BLAST team to arrive in Christchurch, New Zealand! The first order of business is a trip to the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) clothing distribution center to get all the extreme cold weather (ECW) gear needed for living and working in Antarctica!
Yesterday was the busiest day here at CSBF for the BLAST team, so we decided to take a group photo of almost all the team. Not only the team was almost completed but also BLAST starts to be almost all mounted, we added the scoop and the readout system on the gondola. It was another great day for the team and we are making significant progress here.
After several days that Nate and I discussed about writing a blog and publishing more photos of our life in the high bay at CSBF, I finally found 10 minutes to do so. After 2 weeks we did a lot of progress, and I think that there is no better way to start our blog that publishing a time lapse of a critical day like today. We transfer liquid helium, so now Layla is cooling down to 4K, we installed the mirrors and for the first time we rotate them. It is a great achievement and everything went fine.
In the future, I will publish more photos than the one that you see on Instagram.