Monday, July 23, 2012

MMAMA Field Testing - Apollo Valley

First, I clearly have to watch what I'm writing, apparently I caused a lot of stir with my post that Magnus had fallen ill. So good news - he managed to make it up the mountain on the last day as well! 

The last day then... Those last days are always filled with mixed feelings, even in a short campaign like this year's. You've been working very hard and get all absorbed in your own little world and then all of a sudden it's done, you need to pack up and get back to reality. Luckily, we did not have a too sudden transition, but did get to go out in the field after we packed VAPoR and MeSH back in their crates again.

Just a last note before the pretty views - thanks all MMAMA field campaigners for a great trip! I learned a lot again. Charles and Magnus, thanks a lot for coming along, helping out, generating new ideas, and just in general being so much fun to be around. Hopefully until next year!

360° panorama of Apollo Valley

one lesson learned - things are bigger in real life than they look on panoramic cameras

rover tracks :)

a'a lava flow

pahoehoe lava flow

rocks lining up in wind ripples

clouds catching up on us




on top of Mauna Kea (can't get enough of it...)

inside Keck 

more on Mauna Kea summit

and one last look into the valley

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

MMAMA Field Testing - TEST DAY 3

First, apologies for making people nervous by not posting a blog. Day 2 was so uneventful that I really couldn't squeeze a story out. So, we're all good!

Actually, we're even better! Today is the last official test day and FINALLY everything worked as it should (ok apart from the software issues, that are still there, but the crappy (excuse my language) excel workaround I put together actually works quite fine!).

The last day is a good opportunity to just in time officially introduce the MeSH-VAPoR team.
LTR: Inge, Charles, and Magnus, we even look kinda happy!

So, today we spent our day trying to get back in track with the rest of the crew and analyze as many samples as we could. We made it to 4! Data are looking good, but very mysterious, and it seems that there may be an effort to write this up, so it looks like we still have some work to do when we get home. But some of the data are so intriguing that it is worth the effort.

Charles and I, each in our own universe with our own soundtrack.

Magnus finished up a bit earlier than we did, so he already packed up and will most likely spend tomorrow in bed, since he managed to get quite sick. We're happy that neither MeSH nor Magnus fell apart before the end of the test. 

The major goals of this test for us was to integrate MeSH and VAPoR operations and be in sync with the rest of the field instruments. We reached both goals and we even came up with a couple very nice ideas on how to integrate MeSH and VAPoR even further. So, I call this field test a success! 

Tomorrow we will pack and finally get to visit the field site, so one more blog tomorrow with some pictures of the sites where our samples were collected.

For now, the view I have in the morning when I leave my cabin:

And the view I have, before I go to bed (from APOD)

Monday, July 16, 2012

MMAMA field testing - TEST DAY 1

Today was the official first day of the campaign. The rover traversed a predetermined route, the GPR took its data,  panoramic pictures were taken along the way, the Mössbauer spectrometer was deployed and analyzed some rocks as did the magnetometer. 

Sarah Noble, one of the organizers of this campaign, took this picture of the rover in the parking lot. Hopefully at the end of the week some pictures of the rover in action, when we are allowed to go see the field site.

Yesterday, Trevor Graff, one of the field people, collected three samples along today's route for VAPoR to analyze, so we would be in sync with the other instruments. Of course our day looked a little different due to all the soft- and hardware issues yesterday.

So, how did we spend our day?

First, we analyzed an empty quartz sample tube, to get an idea of the background gases in the system. Then, we analyzed an ultra clean fused silica samples that was first ground up and sieved by MeSH to 150 micron (official MeSH movie). Again this was a test to analyze the cleanliness of both VAPoR and MeSH. So far everything looks quite allright! In the mean time, Magnus had ground up two of the three samples collected yesterday, so we ended our day analyzing the first real sample!

Here an idea of what that looked like:

the sample in the field (the sample was collected using aluminium foil to prevent contamination, such as finger prints)

after being MeSHed - the lighter part in the middle is the smallest grain size fraction

some results -> the inorganic gases, showing potential presence of carbonates (CO3, causing the CO2 peaks)

and the organics - one suggestion, since nothing grows up at the site, is that the water is adsorbed rain water and these organics are exhaust products that rain out...

At around 19.00 (7PM) we started our science team meeting, where all teams discussed their results and we made a plan for tomorrow. We'er going to traverse a different part of the valley. Unfortunately, no samples from there were collected for VAPoR yet, so we will be analyzing the remaining samples from today's traverse. All three looked very different, so let's hope we can measure that too! 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

MMAMA field testing - the plan

Tomorrow, Monday July 16, the real testing starts. This is more or less what will be going on:

At 7.00 the rover starts it's traverse at the site, collecting images and data in situ. There are only a few people allowed on the site who know the exact context of the site, the rest of us has to stay at the science operations room. Around 17.00 the rover is done and all the data will be dispersed to the science team members. 

After dinner, the science team starts, which can range anywhere between 2 - 6 hours. In this meeting we will discuss the data, form a first idea about the site we are studying, based on the rover information we have, and make a plan for Day 2.

The official test will last three days.

VAPoR is for the time being a bit an odd one out, since we are to big still to be mounted on a rover. So instead of doing in situ measurements, we will do all our analyses in the science ops room. Another difference is that, since VAPoR measurements take a bit of time, we will get our samples a day ahead. The few people who will be up at the site now the traverse we will follow, so they will pick out samples for us, that we can run during the day. That way we will have data of the same locations as all the rover mounted instruments and can participate realtime in the discussions.

MMAMA field testing day 2 - more troubleshooting

After a great night's sleep at 9,500 ft / ±3 km altitude, the jetlag (and the fact that I forgot to close the blinds) helped out fantastically to start the day bright and early at 5.45 AM. There is only capacity for a few of the MMAMA people to stay up the mountain and since I'm serving in the science team meetings that wil run in the evenings, I get to stay up at the Hale Pohaku lodges again, instead of having to drive up and down from sea level for an hour and a bit. This does have its perks - I get a bit better adjusted to the altitude - and it's consequences - I get to get up at 6.00 and start working around 7.00 AM and am still running samples at 21.00 (9.00 PM). 

the cabin

the view

Today was another day to troubleshoot the instrument and get stuff working and we clearly needed it. Both VAPoR and MeSH seem to have had some trouble with the journey here.

* good news - the leak seems to be gone - we opened up and resealed the oven and now the pressure goes nicely down to somewhere in the 10-7 mbar range. low enough to operate the mass spectrometer
* bad news - the serial port of the laptop has decided to give up
* relatively good news - Magnus had a serial-to-usb converter that did work
* more bad news - the LabView software we use seems to be hard coded to the old serial port and does not want the recognize the new port.
* short intermezzo - we built a LabView program to run all the different parts of VAPoR and collect all data in one big file, so mass spec and temperature and pressure and oven power data.
* the solution - we forget about LabView for now and just as in the early days, we control the temperature straight from the controller and the mass spec using it's own software again. back to taking notes about the temperature and pressure every 5 mins in the labbook and then manually transferring them to the computer. the mass spec data will be analyzed using an excel work around. 

Technically, we should be up and running tomorrow at the first day of the official tests. I'm running a blank now to save us some time tomorrow, but we should be all good. 

* some strange demon has decided to randomly spike up the current of the motor, still not figured out why, but it's not posing too much of a problem
* a few of the sensors that help putting the instrument back in the "home" position decided to call it quits, but also for that we found a work around.

Good end of the day, though, with two nicely ground blanks, one of which to be measured tomorrow morning.

Just in short again how VAPoR and MeSH work:

A sample is delivered to MeSH, which crushes and sieves the sample to 150 micron. The crushed sample is then transfered to a sample holder and placed inside the VAPoR oven in the carousel. The carousel is then rotated under the mass spectrometer, a vacuum tight seal is created and the system is pumped to vacuum. The sample is heated to 1000 °C at a rate of 20 °C/min and the gases that evolve are analyzed by the mass spectrometer.

Here a neat little video on how MeSH operates:

So all in all everything seems to be good to go for the real test! More about that in the next blog.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

MMAMA & ISRU combined campaign - Mauna Kea Hawai'i - Day 1

And we're on the move again!

This year VAPoR, together with MeSH, participates in the combined MMAMA - ISRU field testing campaign, again at Mauna Kea Hawai'i. 

NASA's ISRU (In Situ Resource Utilization) campaign this year focuses around RESOLVE, and takes place in the same valley as the 2010 ILSO-ISRU campaign.

Besides this campaign, NASA has funded a number of instruments to participate in field tests under the MMAMA (Moon and Mars Analog Mission Activities) program. This is the program VAPoR participates in. 

The campaign consist of small rover (Juno), a Mössbauer (or rather the Mössbauer) spectrometer, a ground penetrating radar, a sample preparation instrument, MeSH, and  VAPoR. We will, however, go to a different site, a bit higher op the volcano, called Apollo Valley. This site is geologically more interesting than the other site and there serves our purpose better. 

First a short note on why we are doing this again and why here:

In general:
1. in order to fly a mission to another planet, you have to train train train, and make sure that you've simulated all scenarios that can potentially occur, so the only thing new in the actual mission is the cool stuff you discover, and not the instrument operation or people interaction
2. volcanos and deserts are more like the moon or Mars than any other place on Earth, because of their low amount of vegetation and water. 

This site
3. Apollo Valley is a geologically interesting site of which not every detail is known yet, so even though the aim is not to do cool new science, we may find some new things
4. the sites is very accessible for logistic purposes (if there's no proper road, you won't be able to haul out all the equipment you plan on testing)

The first two days for us are setup and test days and on day 3 the real fun starts. So, today we spent acclimatizing, unpacking our crates, putting our stuff together, and scratching our heads about to random things that all of a sudden refuse to work. One of the problems is most likely a leak.. so more testing tomorrow. The other is that the software does not want to talk to the temperature controller. Considering the fact that the idea behind VAPoR is to controlled raise the temperature and measure the released gases, this is an interesting situation.

The VAPoR/MeSH team this year consists of Charles Malespin and Magnus Hedlund from HoneyBee Robotics, who built MeSH. Field work will be a bit of an overstatement this year, since we are operating from the gym at the observers's lodges at Hale Pohaku, where we will analyze samples brought to us, instead of us going into the field.

Our little corner