wiki/ news/ 2005-02-05 - Attempted Launch of LV2 in Millican, Oregon

We were so close.

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We got a later start than we wanted today, but we had set up the awnings and launch tower the night before so we were off to a good start. We got the rocket out to the launch tower, but couldn't talk to the flight computer because the Wifi power amplifier was off, so we took the rocket back to the flight line, rebooted it with the power amp on, and tried again.

This time the GPS never locked (something we hadn't seen before) so after trying to get it to lock, we just changed the flight computer software to ignore whether the GPS was locked or not.

The skies above the launch tower were blue, with clouds scattered across the sky. The rocket was on the launch tower and in "ready" mode. Data was pouring out of the flight computer. We could see the ground beneath LV2 in the ATV video broadcast. The four recovery teams were scattered around, waiting to gather up the rocket. It was 3:00pm, and we were ready for launch.

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And then, we hypothesize, the ATV broadcast somehow jammed both the 802.11b receiver on the rocket and the 2m radio in the recovery node. We'd never seen this happen before in our days of tests, so we can only assume it was because we were mounted on the launch rail and that was somehow coupling the radios. Or, possibly, somehow the cold temperature was affecting the radios? We don't know yet.

So we went out to the rocket, but by the time we had the rocket apart and were trying to figure out why the ATV killed everything, it was 4:30pm and there was no way we could try again that day. And since most people could only come out for a single day, instead of trying the next day (which might have been a cloud locked, unlaunchable day anyway) we scrubbed the launch.

Gack.

This was the first time an honest-to-goodness technical glitch has scrubbed a launch. We were all feeling a bit let down but not demoralized: the rocket was ready, we were ready, we just hit a problem we never saw before. And in a system with a linux flight computer, a half dozen microcontrollers, two high power radios and a huge ground network, complete with linux server, that's not necessarily surprising. It is hard after all, for the obvious reason ;)

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On the bright side, it was a really good day-and-a half: we had the least infrastructure we've ever taken to a launch, everything was ready (there was no coding the evening before!), we did all the setup and tear down in a day and a half... despite the bone chilling cold, it actually a pretty nice day out in Millican.

The next step? Setup the launch tower and do a series of tests to determine what happened. Fix that problem, test for others, and reschedule the launch. We'll wait for early spring so we don't burn ourselves out - probably mid-April.

See also: logistics

For some more great photos, see the photo gallery: http://photos.psas.pdx.edu/millican_02_2005