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My Solar-Called Life: Solar Week Scientist Blog

CHARM Payload Integration

When we finished our initial calibrations of the bagels and top hats in November 2006, Scott Bounds and I took them out to the NASA Wallops Flight Facilty in Virginia for the payload integration and testing. During a rocket integration, the instruments built by the different groups involved with the rocket are put together on the payload for the very first time with the help of the NASA engineers and technicians. The picture below shows NASA engineer Shane Thompson working on the payload. I've marked some of the different instruments on the payload. The electric field booms and Langmuir probes are folded up and tied up with wires so they will fit inside the nose cone of the rocket. You can see 5 of the bagels I tested in the picture. Some of the scientists thought the metal piece to which the bagels are attached looked like a shamrock, so we called it our "Lucky CHARM." There are two bagels on each of the four leaves of the shamrock-shaped piece of metal.

During integration, the electronics are tested and checked for problems on the payload. I wasn't able to stay at NASA Wallops for the entire integration, but I did get to see a sequence test, which is a sort of dress-rehearsal of the flight to make sure the systems that control the timing of various events during the flight are working properly. The NASA engineers and techinicians also perform tests on the payload to make sure it can withstand the vibrations during the flight and is balanced properly. The rocket payload will be spinning during the flight to help stabilize the rocket, so it is very important that the payload is properly balanced. The picture below shows Clay Merscham and Shane Thompson getting ready for the spin/balancing test. At NASA Wallops, they also perform a spin deployment test to make sure that the various instruments will deploy properly. During the flight, the rocket's nose cone will be ejected so the instruments can be deployed to take measurements. Instruments like the electric field booms and Langmuir probes are designed so that the spinning of the rocket will cause them to unfold. Our top hat deployer arms also will unfold and lock into place due to the spinning of the rocket. This video of the spin deployment test for the HIBAR rocket that Jim LaBelle launched a few years ago will show you what this test is like. The tests are very rigorous and it is common for things to get broken.

The payload integration and testing was finished at the end of December 2006. After the integration, we only had a couple of weeks in January to fix the things that were broken during testing and peform the final calibrations on our bagel and top hat electron detectors. Then everything was shipped to the Poker Flat Research Range near Fairbanks, Alaska to prepare for the rocket launch.



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About Kris Sigsbee

Dr. Kris Sigsbee currently works as an Assistant Research Scientist in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Iowa. She received her M.S. in physics from the University of Minnesota for her study of lunar impact craters. She received her Ph.D. in space physics from the University of Minnesota in 2000. Her research interests include the solar wind, the aurora borealis, geomagnetic storms, and the Van Allen radiation belts. Dr. Sigsbee has also helped test instruments for the CHARM sounding rocket. You can read more about Dr. Sigsbee in her Solar Week biography.

"No, I'm from Iowa. I only work in outer space." - Captain James T. Kirk

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