The Venture Crew consisting of high school students in Huntsville, Alabama are flying an experiment on the Deep Space Test Bed balloon engineering test flight*.  The experiment contains a very low frequency (VLF) radio receiver and a video camera.  The VLF receiver is donated from the INSPIRE Project and named“Marina” several years ago after the newborn daughter of Flavio Gori who originally suggested flying VLF receivers on high altitude balloons.

The Venture Crew’s experiment includes simultaneous measurement on the ground with a newer donated INSPIRE receiver and by other volunteer VLF enthusiasts around theUSA.  The video camera will include a text overlay showing the experiment’s location based on an included Global Positioning System receiver.  The National Scientific Balloon Facility (NSBF) personnel currently plan to stream this video signal real-time through theirFortSumnerweb site (see below).

* The first science flight of the DSTB Facility will carry successfully proposed and peer-reviewed science team experiments to high altitude overAntarcticaeither later this year or next.

Flight Status:


May 19, 2005:

The DSTB gondola package was “hang tested” after mating with its solar array skirt at the NSBF inFort Sumner,New Mexico.  This test weighed the package and checked out connections between the two components of the flight system.



May 20, 2005:

Nearly all of the experiments have been tested in preparation for the compatibility test.  That includes the Venture Crew VLF/camera package.  There are three possible antenna configurations I am currently considering.  The first to be tested is to hang the antenna directly below the gondola.  I will use the compatibility test to determine whether the flight telemetry system overloads the input to the VLF receiver.  If it does, then during the compatibility test I will move the antenna to the end of one of the booms that are part of the gondola.  That will move the antenna some 20 feet away from the gondola and the telemetry antenna.   If neither of these configurations work, then I will be forced to use a short antenna (much less than the 50 feet currently planned) that hangs downward from the experiment package but not long enough to extend into the antenna pattern of the telemetry antenna.



May 21, 2005:

The UC Berkeley gondola did not fly this morning; the winds were too strong.  Consequently an attempt was made to perform the compatibility test for DSTB.  The winds were too high for that to be done as well.  The decision not to perform the full compatibility test was made after the main body of DSTP was brought outside the building.  Some parts of the test were performed, but without the solar array skirt and without full operation of the instruments.  The main gondola was fitted to the ballast weights and balanced.  The gondola was raised as high as the launch vehicle could lift it in order to plan for the later full compatibility test.  An isolation transformer was added to the Venture Crew video camera output.  There was a problem with ground of the SIP to the gondola, but I believe the Venture Crew package was determined not to be the cause.  Once this test is passed, no major changes are allowed on the package and planning starts for selecting a flight date.



May 22, 2005:

Again the winds were too strong for UCB to fly and to perform the compatibility test.  Since the local support crew has been up early for several days in a row, the decision was made to postpone the next attempt at a compatibility test until Tuesday, May 24.



May 23, 2005:

The compatibility test date has been postponed again to Wednesday, May 25.  The UC Berkeley gondola did not fly today.  They are on automatic retry (regardless of the weather prediction) until Wednesday when they are supposed to stand down and let us try for the compatibility test.



May 24, 2005

The compatibility test took place this afternoon.  The test was successful.  Photographs have been added to the photo album from the test.  Three recordings of the VLF are also included.  These are wave files.  During the first recording the gondola with solar array skirt was close to the ground and the SIP/CIP RF antenna were coiled up on the gondola and pointing in random directions.  During the second wave file the gondola was raised and the RF antenna were deployed downward to a location just below the bottom of the solar array skirt.  The VLF antenna remained deployed only down to just above the bottom of the solar array skirt.  In the third test the VLF antenna was lowered to the ground with no other changes.  During the first test I was able to determine that there was considerable noise in the downlink even after the VLF receiver was turned off.  The noise appears to be coming from the CIP computer.  The VLF receiver was turned off before the end of each recording.

I can see more interference in the last of three tests than in the second when the antenna was held above the RF antenna radiation patterns.  That would lead to a VLF antenna length of perhaps 11 feet if that were the length flown.  I am prepared to fly up to 15 meters of VLF antenna.  The current situation is that I have suggested I want to deploy this longer length.  I am reconsidering that request due to the enhanced noise at low frequencies with the antenna deployed into the RF antenna pattern.  My initial reason to deploy to 15 meters is because all the local sources of interference are short wavelength and the desired signal wavelength is quite long comparatively.  The longer VLF antenna might not pick up more local noise, but will pick up more natural noise with the longer length.

I have been told that we aren’t likely to launch for two weeks.  We may hear more about that tomorrow.  My plans for tomorrow are to replace the 9V lithium batteries in the Venture package and do the final wrap with light blocking film and white duct tape.  I need to decide whether to stick with the current antenna deployment decision as well.



May 25, 2005

Today I will close out the Venture experiment package by replacing the 9VDC lithium batteries with two that will fly with DSTB.  That was done this morning.  I have also cut out a foil wrap I will install this afternoon with tape to protect the package from the Sun’s heat.  Later today and tomorrow we will finish out the UAH eMass experiment package.  We are waiting on a couple of parts for that.  By tomorrow I hope both are completely ready for flight.  We still expect UC Berkeley to try to launch Saturday and our earliest opportunity to fly would be around the middle of next week.  I have added images from the Venture Crew in Huntsville, Alabama.  They have gone into the field to get experience making VLF recordings.  Their first site to practice was at a school, where they also gained experience about what 60Hz power line noise was like in the field.  The second site is the one they have chosen for field recordings during flight of DSTB.  This site is on a farmer’s land and a mile away from any power lines.  They found no 60Hz interference when recording at that site, but they did pick up spherics as expected.



May 26, 2005

We closed out the UAH eMass experiment today.  All the student experiments on DSTB are now integrated and working.  That is a big relief.  At the weather briefing they reported a 40% change of showers tomorrow and not much better for Saturday.  Of course it therefore follows that they will come out and pick up the UC Berkeley gondola with the launch vehicle at 3:30am in anticipation of a possible launch tomorrow.  That’s what they are planning anyway.  The weather forecast starts to actually look good on Sunday and Monday.  Maybe they can get it aloft at the start of the new week.  I gather that DSTB can be anticipated to be on-deck to find good weather for launch about one week after UC Berkeley launches.  I also heard today that they have extended the launch season at Fort Sumner in order to be sure that DSTB flies from this location.  Apparently the equipment at Palestine, Texas is not in as good a shape as the equipment here.  So stay tuned;“Old Fort Days” start on June 8…here’s hoping we aren’t hear to see it.



May 27, 2005

As all reasonable people expected, Berkeley did not fly this morning.  They will continue to try each morning for a while.  I finished out integration of  the Venture Crew experiment this morning.  That only entailed VLF antenna work and attaching a good sized Venture Crew logo to the package.  The antenna deployer will be held by a squib to one corner of the solar array panel at launch.  While still over the airport the squib will be fired by radio control to release the antenna deployer.  Since it will have been held about 6-8 feet toward the gondola from where it is connected, it will swing while it is deploying.  The deployer will fall away at the end of the 15 meters of antenna length.  The orange canvas bag shown in the photograph of the squib deployer is the radio receiver that initiates the squib firing.   There are actually two squibs packaged together.  A sting will pass through two eyelets and loop around the antenna deployer frame to hold it in place.  Upon firing the squibs (two for redundancy) the string is cut and the antenna will deploy.  I am leaving to return to Huntsville for a few days tomorrow morning, but will try to keep you up to date on happenings here.  I’ll leave Huntsville to return to Fort Sumner on June 2.



May 27, 2005

Some photographs from Michael Midekey’s practice session yesterday at Rosedale, New Mexico have been added to the Venture web photo album.  He reports a pine forest is a rotten environment in which to picture wire antennas!  The preamp unit is the original Ev Paschal "Stanford 1980" design.  The receiver is his adaptation of Steve Ratzlaff's radical simplification of Ev's unit.  In this case he built two identical circuits for orthogonal loop work, with mic and line (WWV) inputs switchable to the right channel.  He further reports his PMD 760 recorder looks clean as a whistle out to 24 kHz.  Michael is planning to“hit” the road for the 90 minute trip and setup so he can record while the DSTB gondola is in flight.



May 28, 2005

Berkeley failed to launch yet another day; so goes the schedule slide.  NSBF has decided that all three of the payloads here should launch here rather than going to Palestine, Texas, so they have extended the season here through the month.  I believe Berkeley will stay active, looking each morning for launch, at least for a few days longer.



May 30, 2005

As best I can tell, Berkeley again failed to launch yesterday and today.  I followed the activity taking place outside the buildings this morning and appeared to see the NSBF support personnel taking off for breakfast at about 7:20AM local time.  That has been their recent routine when launch is scrubbed for the day.  I’m back in Huntsville for a few days waiting to hear about the launch of both experiment gondolas that are ahead of DSTB.  I plan to return to Fort Sumner close to when DSTB might launch.  I’ll keep you posted with news as I get it from those still onsite.



Updated on June 2, 2005, 4:21PM CDT

As you all probably know by now, the UC Berkeley launched yesterday in the last morning. The next balloon package is FIRST. The first possible attempt for the next payload is Saturday.  This will be re-evaluated and discussed at tomorrow's weather briefing. From the discussion today, Sunday actually look like a better chance of actually flying.  If the next balloon happens to go on Saturday the first possible day DSTB would fly is Monday, but this is very, very optimistic.



Should any of the other participating individuals or groups wish to have information about themselves, their recording sites, or anything loaded into the photo gallery, please contact me at  I would be happy to put pictures and/or other information onto these web pages.



Venture Crew and DSTB PhotoGallery


Related Web Sites:

NASA - National Scientific Balloon Facility

Fort Sumner, New Mexico

Fort Sumner, NSBF, Webcams








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