The past month and a half has been spent getting all of our instruments strapped to the rocket payload and tested for flight, and it looks like we’re almost ready to go. Strapping in the instruments and testing them turned out to be a much more complicated process than I originally guessed. Apparently rocket science isn’t easy! Who knew?
For most of the first two weeks the rocket looked like this. It’s a mess of wires with the instruments all exposed. Each team member takes their turn installing various instruments needed for the science mission. In this orientation you can see the front end of the rocket’s main payload. On the fore section of the main payload we have instruments to measure ions, electrons, neutral particles, light at multiple wavelengths, and the magnetic field.
The back end of the main payload contains the fruit of most of my own labor, the imager. In the image above a bag covers the imager to keep out dust and debris. There’s also a sub-payload that separates from the main payload during flight (not pictured here) and that contains another electron instrument as well as an electric field instrument.
I was only present for the first two weeks while we were attaching the instruments and making sure everything was connected properly electrically. This stretch of integration isn’t usually the most stressful part of integration but still some issues cropped up. We had to deal with things ranging from a broken wire to misaligned hole patterns, which may sound minor but everything is under a deadline and that raises the stress level a bit. Fortunately the NASA team down at Wallops is awesome, they saved our bacon more than once!
Once all the instruments are in place the skin of the payload can start to go on. This is when it really starts to take shape and look like a rocket. I wasn’t here for this portion of integration sadly, but I got to live vicariously through Kristoff and Brent, who helped monitor the UNH instruments. They updated us daily on the progress and status of the testing.
The whole payload goes through a litany of tests, most important of which is the vibration testing. Basically the payload gets put through a simulation of launch conditions to see if things will survive all the rumbling of a small explosion directly beneath it and still operate as expected.
All of the testing has gone fairly well up to this point. There were plenty of snags along the way and still a thing or two we have to work out, but it looks like the mission is on track to launch this winter. I’ll be updating live from Norway both leading up to and during launch (the window opens on 27 November), so be sure to check back for updates!