Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Spotlight on HAB

One of the other science teams at Durham Tech is working on a project called High-Altitude Ballooning, or HAB. These crazy kids are hard at work right now on their Preliminary Design Review. The team is lead by Dan K., also of the Unacceptable Risks and Durham Programmabulls. Spencer is the mechanical engineer, Oliver the camera guy, Ruthie is tackling documentation, Chris is the parachute guy, Citlalli and Kevin are the wind trackers, and Destiny the social media rounds out the bunch. Stay tuned for more news from the HAB team as they tackle this project!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Nerd Paparazzi

I decided to take a break from badgering everyone with constant queries of "Hey, are you doing anything cool today? No? Why not? Do something cool." So I used my time incredibly wisely to roundup my favorite shots from our journey so far.

A man of eternal calm and serenity. I give you....Zen-cer.

This is pretty much how I see Dan in my head at all times.

Noah thinks he can escape my camera by sitting in the far corner of the lab, but he can't! And so far he's the one doing the most visually interesting work. (Take that, Noah!)

Soham, International Man of Mystery. Actually, it was FREEZING in DSBF and Soham was periodically checking the temp to confirm that yes, we were all in danger of becoming hypothermic.

I like to call this one "The HASP Supper". I think it belongs on r/accidentalrenaissance.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Fundraising, funraising, and fun raisins.

Yes, we still need money.

We have more money this year than we did last year and that is due to the continued generosity of NC Space Grant and the cleverness of Dr. Paris. 

We're lucky to have big teams and we're incredibly fortunate to have all of these invitations to travel. However, getting all of these students to one place isn't cheap! We're trying to plan trips to Maryland, Orlando, Texas, New Mexico, and possibly Louisiana. Airfare, hotels, and rental cars add up and we're really hoping that every student on the team can go to at least one trip. (Especially Spencer because he's never been on a plane!) 

And we're still trying to get enough in the GoFundMe to be able to chop off Dan's hair. The way our funds are set up this year, if you donate to Murrr's GoFundMe (or the GoDe-BunMe as we call it), your donation helps all of the teams.

We're also still selling our amazing t-shirts with our fantastic new logos. (Although, if you donate to the GoFundMe you can also get a shirt.)

We visited our favorite local restaurant, The QShack, for a working lunch and we're really excited because they said that we can use our logo on the back of our official team shirts!

We also have a fundraiser in the works with Gizmo Brewery so mark your calendars for 02/03/18. 

Murrr reached out to some hotel chains to try to get our rooms for Swarmathon donated. It's a long shot but it would be a TREMENDOUS way to save money for supplies. 

And while we raise money, the real work continues!

Handsome Dan came in this week and checked the models of the arm. Everyone agreed on some adjustments to the DOF that will help the performance of the arm and simplify the design.

The snow day on Thursday slowed us down but the NCCU fab lab gave us shelter from the storm. We were happy to get back to the DSBF on Friday to end the week strong before classes start on Monday.

We've all been donating a lot of tech to the DBSF to hopefully streamline some of our modeling. The computer we had with SolidWorks kept crashing so Dan brought in his huge gaming rig from home and they set it up to run SolidWorks an ROS so we can use it for HASP and Swarm.

I am really proud of all of the students for the work they put in over the break. It feels like a lot of folks made new discoveries. Sometimes that discovery was, "Oh no. This isn't going to work," but that's still fantastic. That's science. That's engineering. Congratulations! You learned a thing!

Next week HAB, Swarm, HASP and a possible new team will all converge in the DSBF. I think it's understatement to say that everyone is excited to see what Spring 2018 has to offer. We have a lot of deadlines in March and early April so it will be a sprint! 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


As Supreme Arbiter of Social Media Justice, I get to kind of sit back and watch the science and chaos happen as an omnipresent observer. A lot of really cool and really silly things happen pretty much constantly, and there's always a great energy in the lab when the team gets together.

Here's today's workday from my POV.


Dunno how cold but it's less than 66 degrees F.

(292 Kelvin)

(AH.  Our other thermometer says it's 54 degrees F)

Back to Work

Campus was open so HASP got back to work today. The DSBF was pretty chilly because the heat had been off for a few weeks, but we pretended it was brisk and refreshing.

The primary order of business was to evaluate the 3D printed robo arm prototype.

And continue working on some of the math needed to program the movement of the arm.

We're hoping to get a good, solid head start before the semester begins in earnest.

Friday, December 22, 2017

I made a thing!

I've been futzing about with the NCCU Fab Lab's laser engraver these last few days and made some signage for the Durham Scientific Balloon Facility, AKA the lab where most of our work happens. Since our operation is largely a rogue labor-of-love, we have to make our own accolades most of the time.

Not centered or straight, but it wouldn't be tUR work if it was...
All credit to Jessica and Kurt Frega for the tUR logo, and to Kurt Hoover for our GOAT and RAM logos. Thanks to Dr. Saliim for letting us use his lab space. Up next: learning how to print our own circuit boards.
Logo, desaturated and masked for different laser settings.

Different masking / color-mapping on the RAM logo.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Mid Atlantic Tour

tUR has been lucky enough to have opportunities to meet a some fantastic people during our projects. This summer we had a few invitations to visit people and tour their facilities, but since we were running from one project to the next, and trying to balance busy lives with pet projects, we couldn't find the time to make it work. When we picked RAM from all of the projects pitched, I sent an inquiry to the Satellite Servicing Projects Division to see if they ever allowed tours of their facility. I was so pleased when Peter Sooy called me to say that they did! It didn't make sense to go to Goddard without seeing Paul Mirel at PIPER. And man, if we were heading up that way it would be great to go to Langley and finally see SAGE III, the inspiration for GOAT. We tacked on a visit to one of the HASP teams at the University of Maryland and our crazy plan blossomed into a whirlwind Mid-Atlantic Tour.

Thursday we all got up and drove to Hampton, VA and met at a Barnes and Noble. I lied to the students so that we'd get there early enough to make it to the Visitor Center on time. From there we were scooped up by Kristyn Damadeo who was our cat herder for the day. She was lovely and we're making her an honorary member of the team.

 I honestly had no idea what to expect from this tour. I assumed it would be similar to my summer visit to Langley and cover the same ground. Instead, we visited all new spots and it exceeded my already high expectations in every regard. The students were buzzing the entire time and I'm sure we overwhelmed some of the people we spoke with.


Hopefully some of the students will post their own perspectives on the experience. We have a vast photo album from this trip and I'd love it if they shared some of the things they learned. I'm just going to hit an overview.

We saw three wind tunnels and they blew our minds. Get it? See, I made a joke about, well...you know like...wind...blows...SIGH. 

But seriously, we saw a lot of incredible machinery and the thing that struck me as being so cool...was the cryogenic wind tunnel...HAHAHA another joke. I'm sorry, I'm very tired...the thing that was so cool was that the majority of our tour wasn't about NASA science and engineering, it was about the staggering scope of the tools that NASA uses to support their science and engineering. We saw wind tunnels, shakers, an array of thermal vacs, clean rooms, and other testing facilities and when you see these resources and how clever they are you can really get a feel for what makes NASA the gold standard for technology. 

The scale of the tools we saw was also a bit staggering. Everything just seemed huge.

One of my favorite things about NASA are the signs, which deserve their own post, but I also adore the mixture of high tech and low tech. I have a special fondness for antique items that are still functional, and appreciate the aesthetic of the 1960's NASA decor.

We were all a bit giddy in this vintage control room. I'm not sure our guide knew what to do with us. 

Can we take a picture with your fabulous wall?

We were total space tourists the entire trip.

 We had the chance to visit one of the engineers who worked on SAGE III and see a mock up of it. SAGE III studies gases in the stratosphere, and when we were doing preliminary research for GOAT we read a lot of articles from this project.

We visited the mission control room where they monitor SAGE on the ISS. 


I have a day dream where I'm back in this room running my own mission with these people.

After Langley we ate a delicious dinner on the water and talked about the day. The students were bowled over by the tour and could not believe how lucky we were to see so much in one day.

After dinner we drove to Beltsville, MD to get ready to visit NASA Goddard in the morning. The Bull City was energized and ready for another big day. It even snowed part of the day which just served to make it seem even more like a dream.

Our first stop was the Satellite Servicing Projects Division where we weren't allowed to take any photos. We saw how they are making an arm to refuel an ageing satellite and learned a few things to add to our HASP application that was due at midnight! We learned that only two of the satellites that are currently operational have been built with an eye toward servicing, and that the rest of them are going to be a challenge to maintain. We were pleased to see some of the parallels between what we were doing with our HASP project and the work actually being done at Goddard. I don't think we realized how cutting edge or ambitious this project was when we decided on it. 

We asked so many questions that we were allowed to go upstairs and spend some time with their 7 DOF robot arm that is similar to the one we hope to build. Once again, we learned more information that will help us for HASP.

Then it was time to go back to Jimmy's old stomping grounds. 

We swarmed Jimmy's mentor and beloved industry partner, Paul Mirel in his office.

We had lunch with Paul and saw the results of some of Jimmy's summer work and the PIPER test flight. We ate in the NASA cafeteria, I visited my favorite clock, we got a ton of cool swag, and once again learned a lot new things. By this point our brains were swimming with ideas and information.

We decamped to the library (!!!) to siphon off some of what we had learned into a document so that we wouldn't entirely lose all of it due to our limited post-final pre-HASP deadline infiltration capacity. We also took the opportunity to add a couple of photos, sweep our HASP application, and send it off to LSU.

It always feels good when we accidentally end up working on OUR NASA work at NASA. Giddy with relief, we took off to the gift store, and bought everything that wasn't nailed down. 

The last leg of the tour was the aerospace department at the University of Maryland. You know when you visit someone at their house and it's so much fancier and tidier than yours, like orders of magnitude nicer than the hovel you just realized you live in, and you walk into the living room and they are like, "Oh gosh. Pardon the mess," and you don't know if you should laugh or cry?  

That was us at UMD. 

In addition to their robot arms, neutral buoyancy pool, command module, test suits, drone batting cage, and HAB program, they also have a passionate and dedicated faculty. It was certainly the cherry on the top of the tour.

Tomorrow we'll be back at work in the DSBF, our cozy little science fort, getting started on building our HASP robot arm! We enjoyed our Space-cation but we're ready to get back to our work. No rest for the wicked. We COULD rest, but we don't feel like it.