Progress Report: 10/23 – 11/6

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A lot has happened in the last few weeks, so I haven’t really had time to build a kite or really explore that possibility any further. In the mean time, I’ve worked on UAV possibilities we can look into, specifically UAV designs which promote longer flight times. Most of these have been fixed wing designs, which tend to be less of a drain on batteries. One particular inspiration is the Silent Falcon drone, which is designed for LiDAR work, and has 5-12 hour life depending on wing configurations. Building such an aircraft would mean getting carbon fiber moulding equipment in the shop, which I think will be useful no matter what drone we decide to build. Carbon fiber is pretty much the standard for quality UAV solutions, and it will make sense to make as much out of composite materials as we can.

Weeks of 22 and 29 November, 2015

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Lots of little things. One item that I would like to resolve sooner rather than later is list tracking, we have a number of on-going projects each of which have 1-3 people working on them and many little bits to track. I think we should also consider choosing a person per project to lead/organize the work for that project.

Over the break I worked on the Android <-> BlueTooth LE <-> Arduino interface. So far I have a working BLE example (with the LightBlue Bean) and I’m integrating that into an Android application that queries the temperature (which doesn’t come from the Arduino side of the chipset). Next is soldering-up header on a LBB so I can attach a sensor on Arduino side.

GIS, fund raising, logistics, and list management will comprise most of what I work on this coming week.

Week of 15 November 2015

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Another week, another N things moved X distance:

  1. Met with K, G, E, D, and N to continue discussing Field Science/Wilderness Program bits. Notes can be found here.
  2. Ordered bits for the soil platforms, discussed protocols with T (software, sampling, bench).
  3. Assembled the next message for Oli, almost finished processing his most recent message.
  4. Oli sent a GIS file, I’ll unpack it and see if we can work with it.
  5. Considered our scheduled with K, we might want to leave a week or two earlier this year.
  6. Started poking at the Android <-> BlueTooth <-> Arduino interface.

This coming week:

  1. GIS bits.
  2. High-level tour of the most likely projects for this year: glacier measuring, soil platforms (field and bench), sustainable energy survey, avian nest survey, archeological site survey, ambiance platform, Field Day.
  3. Consider where we could teach what in the context of a field science Wilderness Program.
  4. Finish next email to Oli.
  5. Work with Deeksha on data model and current data sets.
  6. Develop initial materials for Institutional Advancement to use with potential donors; meet with SallyS and AvisS.
  7. Work with Eamon on the visualization interface.
  8. Work with Erin and Eamon on the wifi link for Skalanes.
  9. Work on Field Day <-> Bluetooth <-> Platform interface.

Balloons, hot & cold

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This week, I spoke to a “balloonist” whose hobby of hot air ballooning will hopefully inform us more on the idea of using hot air balloons, and the kinds of things we should be thinking about. Though it’s not the same thing (he balloons at a scale of hundreds of pounds) there’s tons to learn from his informative e-mail. This advice will be critical when we consider the design of our balloon. His email is pasted below.

There are several items to consider.  LTA/Balloons w/ABH  or hot air balloons, use a nylon rip-stop fabric that is coated (very lightly) but some are also polyester (still coated).  Rip-stop has, by name, some safety build in and the coating gives it an almost airtight quality.  One of the reasons for using these two materials is the temperature that is needed to deform.  All the hot air balloons have a small tab at the top “tell tale” or “melt link” or “Seriloc”.  These show if the temperature exceeded certain values.  Any temp over 275 def F may have done damage (allowed deformation of the nylon).  Mylar or other thin nylon material may deform at lower temperatures.  The balloons I fly use kevlar support cables that run from the bottom to the top.  They are covered to prevent UV damage.  The envelop, kinda, slides up and down on the support cables.  There are some balloons that use steel cables.
Hot Air Balloon burners are a well engineered device.  The liquid propane comes up to the burner.  The blast value allows the liquid to go into the upper coils.  These coils are in the flame path.  This superheats the propane.  The other end of the coil is in the lower part of the burner and pointed upward to the pilot lights.  Once the propane is superheated and released into the pilot lights – it will explode.  This gives the hot air balloon a very large (8ft long and 8 inch diameter) light blue flame.  This is important as it is not just something burning naturally but boosted to release up to 19 million btu’s.  This energy release can raise the temperature of 7,000 lbs (mass) of air up 100 deg F in just a few minutes.  I worked out all the math & physic’s that a hot air balloon uses to increase the energy and lower the air mass in the envelop to get to a buoyant situation.
I do tether flights for Civil Air Patrol cadets and there are issues with any type of wind when tethering.  The wind, as low as 5 mph, will start to collapse the windward side of the envelope.  This pushes the envelope material over the burner (you see the problem there).  Once the wind gets to 10 mph the risk that the aircraft will break a tether increases.  I use the Cd (coefficient of drag) of 0.3 to 0.35 when calculating the forces when tethered.  Another issue is the wind will push the flame and blow out the pilot lights.
One of the other issues you will need to address it the rate of heat input.  On hot air balloons, the pilot judges the amount of weight, ambient temperature and amount of heat loss.  This allows the pilot to use the blast valve to add heat to maintain level flight.  I can cross a 0.5 mile farm field maintaining a 6 inch height above the soybeans by adding heat at the correct times.  Since temp, humidity, pressure, etc changes daily (hourly) you will need away to adjust the heat input to the envelop.
One of the balloons I fly has a 77,000 cubic foot envelope that supports a maximum lift of 1750 lbs.  All aircraft use  a weight and balance calculation (required by the FAA).  This balloon has a basket weight of 250 lbs and envelope of 200 lbs.  The three ten gallon talks support adding 30 gals or 120 lbs of fuel.   As the fuel burns down the amount of heat needed (lower envelope temperature) requires less fuel to be used.
One of the resources that the US provides is information about weather.  NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory,, RUC Development Group, provides some valuable information via soundings and model analysis.  We use various model results for the our location.  They provide wind speed, wind direction, temperature, etc from the ground to 45,000 feet.  Today the wind a the ground is 246 degrees at 17kts. and increases to 21kts at 92ft, 31kts at 1407ft, 41kts at 4311ft and 60kts at 10,000ft.  You won’t tether to 10,000 feet but the speed increase from 0 to 500ft can be 10kts more then ground.  That is ok for free flight but very tough for tethered flights.
Also, when we tether a balloon we use a three point gimbaled harness.  There is a rope from the top to bottom (every 120 degrees around the balloon) and then a second rope that slides/rides the top-bottom rope which will attach to an anchor.  This allows the balloon to remain vertical when a wind hits it.  If you just tie to the top then the bottom would get pushed out from under it and if just tie to the bottom then the top would get pushed over.
It might be better with helium or hydrogen (be careful with hydrogen as it is flammable – remember the Hindenburg Zeppelin disaster).  You might find this interesting
If you have other questions or just want to bounce some ideas, email me.
Mike Gallant”

What I took away from this at first: we need a rigid, lightweight structure to the balloon in order to prevent collapse in windy Iceland. We should really consider using pressurized gas burners, they make a lot of heat and we need a lot of heat. Lastly, we need some seriously heatproof materials, which are also leak-proof. I hope to identify what kinds of materials we will use this week, but it may be more prudent to figure out the design of our balloon first. The design may largely be determined by the following factors: weather (wind speeds at different altitudes, precipitation) and buoyancy needs (weight of balloon, tether, burner, camera/arduino etc).

Progress Report 11/1-7

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This week I stopped working on the alcohol burner (at Charlie’s insistence) and started to look for Sterno. I did not find Sterno at Marsh or Tru Value, so someone else might have to pick that up. Once we have that, I’m hoping to use a lightweight plastic or balsa for a the frame for the envelope, though it remains to be seen if either is can be light and strong enough (I’m counting on balsa) .  Meanwhile I started researching potential DIY kite designs from which we could do our thermal mapping. I like the kite idea because it can be used when the hot air balloon cannot (because it’s too windy) giving us more flexibility over when and where we do our thermal mapping. The designs I’m looking at right now are box kites, due to their relatively simple design, ease of construction, strength and stability in the air. I hope to start building a kite out of dowels and TyVek this week, and if it’s stable, I’ll scale those designs to accommodate the thermal camera.

Progress Report 10/18-24

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During these weeks I explored the possibilities of using hot air balloons. The trick was, how do I generate enough heat to get lift the thermal camera? The answer is, a LOT. We are going to need to not only generate a lot of heat, we are going to need to have a huge envelope which holds this hot air. I’ve built a couple alcohol burners already, which worked OK. Early models exploded from vapour build-up, and later models had too little pressure to stay lit. Calibrating a burner to burn for long enough while still holding together will be quite the trick. In the mean time, I’ve been thinking: hot air balloons usually float on the calmest days. If Skalines is windy, is this the best approach?

Week of 8 November 2015

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Another week, another 7 things moved 2.54cm each:

  1. Met with Gail Clark, Kristin, Erin, Nic and Deeksha to talk about if/how our field work in Iceland could be the basis for a Wilderness Program. Initially this looks good to us.
  2. Worked with G, K, E, N and D to assemble a proposal to the GLI’s development fund to cover C and G’s travel costs this coming summer. This would mean 7 of us in-country rather than 6.
  3. Ordered some bits for the soil and ambiance platforms.
  4. Worked with Tara on the science protocol design, (physical) interface design, and data protocol design for the soil platform. The data protocol design and by extension probably the other platforms too).
  5. Started to incorporate Oli’s replies and develop our next set of questions.
  6. Downloaded and installed Nic’s signed Android APK on my Nexus7! (Is this process documented? Do we have developer’s notes with the directories, release process, etc. described?)
  7. Learned how little I know about detecting Arctic fox dens.

This coming week we’ll see if roughly the same 7 things can move another inch or so:

  1. Finish next email to Oli.
  2. Work with Deeksha on data model and current data sets.
  3. Next steps for the Wilderness Program idea.
  4. Develop initial materials for Institutional Advancement to use with potential donors; meet with SallyS and AvisS.
  5. Work with Eamon on the visualization interface.
  6. Work with Erin and Eamon on the wifi link for Skalanes.
  7. Work on Field Day <-> Bluetooth <-> Platform interface.

Week of November 1, 2015

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I accomplished very little last week on this project (homecoming, dedication) other than planting some fundraising seeds with some potential donors over the weekend. Over the next week I plan to:

  1. Begin the conversation about if, and if so how, the field science project can become a regular Wilderness Program offering.
  2. Process Oli’s most recent message and prepare a reply.
  3. Develop initial materials for A/D to use with potential donors; meet with SallyS and AvisS.
  4. Work on Field Day.

Weeks of 18 and 25 October 2015

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Lots of little pieces over the past two weeks:

  1. After breaking my Android development environment in Nicaragua last December I finally have a working setup again. I can build and run hello world on my Nexus7 and HTC One!
  2. Started a conversation with Sally Southwick in Alumni/Development about NSF and foundation support for this project. Developed a preliminary budget (see GDrive folder) to be refined as we learn more.
  3. Started a conversation with Jay Roberts and GLI about developing a wilderness like program in Iceland. There is a lot of enthusiasm for this idea. The next step is for us to discuss this, and if we think it’s practical/interesting to do we would develop a proposal to the GLI for funding the development over the coming year.
  4. Oli replied to our last message, I will start working on a reply from us.

Things I’d like to do this coming week:

  1. Develop and distribute a signed APK of hello world that someone else downloads and runs using Android Studio.
  2. Nudge Sally Southwick, this is not a typical project and obtaining funding, especially from the NSF, will require a certain amount of effort and finesse.
  3. If the wilderness bit sounds like a good idea develop a proposal for funding the development of it for the GLI.
  4. Work with folks on the sub-terrain survey ideas.
  5. Work with folks on the ballon terrain survey ideas.

Another progress update…

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The web visualization app has made leaps and bounds. it now displays points on screen from a PostgreSQL database using Iceland 2014 data. I had to integrate the front end and back end to prevent the need for multiple servers running; there were also issues with cross-domain requests. I also modified the data API to conform with the filter specifications we talked about in our last meeting.

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