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Home > Rockets > RENU

RENU: Updates

• 12/12/10 – Launch Window Day 15, the last day of the official launch window


Unfortunately, there is some bad news that accompanies the launch. The nosecone failed to eject properly, which resulted in a loss of power to all instruments in the forward payload (including the Dartmouth experiments). The failure is currently being investigated by NASA, so I think it is most appropriate if I simply copy the launch update directly from P.I. Marc Lessard (UNH):

STATUS: After several days of strong winds, clouds and many other issues, we finally managed to get the launch conditions we were looking for and launched RENU this morning at approximately 06:38 UT. The good news is that we managed to launch into a brief but strong event. The discussions that led to the decision to launch were intense, to say the least. I could show the EISCAT radar data that shows the ion outflow, electron heating, etc., and then I could brag about how we managed to hit a relatively transient event, but instead I will show an image of the aurora overhead at KHO just three minutes before the launch took place. The image below was acquired with a color camera belonging to the Japanese National Institute of Polar Research.

The not-so-good news is that there appear to have been issues with the payload. While this information is still preliminary, it seems that the separation of the nose cone (that took place between the firing of the 3rd and 4th stage motor burns) coincided with a loss of power to instruments in the forward section of the payload. The apogee was also significantly lower than predicted, reaching only about 340 km instead of the 450+ km expected.

On the other hand, the subpayload performed very well and acquired measurements of electric fields and electron temperatures. The onboard auroral imager, mounted on the aft end of the main payload, also appears to have worked well.

It will take some time to sort this all out, of course.

THE LAST WORD: The support we have received from our Norwegian hosts, from the many people from other countries who contributed their efforts and, in particular, the people who worked so many long hours to put this rocket together has been incredible. On behalf of the science team, I would like to say THANK YOU and best wishes for a great holiday season.

Video of RENU launch

• 12/11/10 – Launch Window Day 14

Today started off with a lot of drama and heartbreaking news. First thing we were told when we came in today is that we are grounded, probably for the next 3 days, because of a power issue in one of the power circuit boards (power for the entire payload). Here is the problem, as I understand it.

A different crew, working on a different rocket at Wallops Flight Facility found a design flaw in a power board. We are using the same power board on RENU (several of them). The flaw is with a trace, that has the potential for shorting out to the power box. This could jeopardize power for the entire payload. The mission was immediately grounded by the powers –that–be at Wallops. This is a very touchy situation, as it would be disastrous to try and fly as–is and risk losing everything due to a short. On the other hand, it would take up to 3 days to complete the full repair, as it requires taking the payload completely apart. We have already worked through a number of issues, with the LEOS, the GLNMAC gyro, destruction of styrofoam boxes, and the weather. An in–depth analysis by both NSROC and experimental engineers in the field indicates that there is a minimal risk of the trace shorting in our current setup. This risk has to be weighed against the risk of doing further damage in the repair, as well as the science risk. We are seeing extremely favorable science conditions, and there is concern that missing several days for repairs could mean losing the best science conditions that we've seen all window. Reaching a decision required the collaboration of dozens of people, requiring a calm, collective, objective analysis of the potential risks.

After much deliberation, the verdict is............ WE HAVE A GREEN LIGHT TO FLY! Technically, after examining all risk factors, NASA determined that we are in a yellow risk status, but still acceptable to fly. Again, kudos to all involved to quickly reach a decision. Management showed patience and understanding, allowing the field team to present its case. Now, once again, we wait for the right combination of solar wind and atmospheric wind conditions.

Throughout the entire launch window today, we had cooperation with the atmospheric weather. However, no such luck with the solar wind. We had little aurora to speak of, as strong +Bz pushed most of it too far north. We did have a moment of excitement, at 0829 UT. We saw a traveling convection vortex, which is basically a small coil of current and aurora that runs across the polar cap. We saw it as a current pulse on the magnetometer chain, as well as on the Japanese NIPR camera.

We are still holding out hope for tomorrow! Winds in Andenes should be agreeable, and hopefully the solar wind will pick up.

         Traveling convection vortex, our own personal "polar cap auroral tornado." Photo courtesy of the Japanese                                                        National Institute for Polar Research.

During my down time yesterday, I made a visit to the Svalbard Museum. During my tour, I pet a polar bear on the teeth, and helped a miner mine coal. A productive adventure, to say the least!

         Just a little fella! He looked like he needed a dental check.                                                                                                Photo by Philip Fernandes.

                                                                   Doing my part to help provide coal on Svalbard. Photo by                                                                                                Philip Fernandes.

• 12/10/10 – Launch Window Day 13

After yesterday's "death of the ionosphere" today is a very welcome change, scientifically. The solar wind is much more active. Through the first half of the launch window, we had a very stable auroral arc overhead. At one point the aurora was too far south due to a strong –Bz, which is much better than too far north! EISCAT radar showed electron heating and ion outflow, both requirements for launch. We let the ASK team take over the EISCAT radar, because despite the exciting science, we were out for winds due to severe winds and scattered snow showers at Andoya Rocket Range. We were down for winds for the entire launch window.

Toward the end of the window, at 0720, Bz started turning south. By 0820, Bz was –4nT. Unfortunately, we never saw strong effects from this in the aurora. The oval expanded southward, but not enough to push the aurora directly overhead. There are probably several reasons for this: the southward turning was gradual, rather than the step–function we saw several days ago. Additionally, the solar wind speed and density are both rather low, so although the solar wind coupled to the magnetosphere, there was not a significant energy transfer.

Predictions for tomorrow indicate continued solar wind activity, milder winds at Andenes, and clear skies in Longyearbyen. These are the makings of perfect launch conditions!

         An auroral arc we saw earlier in today's launch window. Unfortunately, winds in Andenes were too strong         for us to consider launching. Photo taken by the Japanese National Institute of Polar Research camera at KHO.

• 12/09/10 – Launch Window Day 12

Things started off quite slow today. Although we were "in" for winds, there was some concern that raising the launcher to vertical would result in the complete destruction of the styrofoam box enclosing the rocket. It was decided that the rocket would remain horizontal, at least until there was some exciting science to report. There was also some snow overnight, with continuing scattered snow-showers. This disrupted visibility for the downrange science team in Longyearbyen, making it difficult to gauge how much and of what type of aurora there was in the sky.

Although solar wind conditions look promising, things started off very quietly. We did not see the strong arcs that began the day yesterday, though it is not clear if this was an issue of visibility or low geomagnetic activity. However, the EISCAT radar also did not see the steady stream of transient electron heating events which we saw yesterday, indicating that the ionosphere was very quiet and boring. There is a strong +By, which pushes the cusp duskward, meaning we would expect to see things later today than we did yesterday. However, there is also a lack of strong –Bz, so the solar wind is not strongly coupling to the ionosphere. Thus, any aurora we are seeing is too far north, so it is not in the EISCAT beam and is too far north for the rocket to hit.

Things stayed extremely quiet throughout the day – there was not a single moment when things got scientifically interesting. Let me post an excerpt from the RENU science chat, to give the reader an idea of how our day went:

[8:26:31 AM] Steve Powell: Science fun fact: According to the 2004 Guinness Book of Records the fastest sneeze was measured at 103.6 mph.

[8:28:06 AM] Kevin Rhoads: That is because the faster ones got away before being measured.

[8:32:32 AM] Thomas Clifton Malaby: with sneezes you cannot measure the velocity and position simultaneously.

[8:34:13 AM] sweden317: and we're off....with facts...or at least interesting pseudo facts: norway and new zealand have the highest per capita banana consumption in the world, in 2007, norwegians consumed 16.7 kilos of bananas each.

We're desperate for better conditions tomorrow!

• 12/08/10 – Launch Window Day 11

Today was an exciting, heartbreaking, gut–wrenching, exhilarating day for all members of the RENU team, science and engineering alike. The atmospheric weather is in our favor, as we started off the day green for winds and cloud cover. Just as important, the solar wind is much more in our favor, as the density and velocity is up. We even had some periods of –Bz, which allows the solar wind to couple to the magnetosphere and transfer energy, resulting in geomagnetic activity.

The most exciting event was a southward turning of Bz, coupled with a spike in the density. We saw the southward turning of Bz on the ACE data from 0610 – 0627. We wanted to drop to T–2:00 at 0700 UT, but were unable to because we were out for winds. We instead did a virtual count, acting as if we had dropped the count starting at 0700 UT, so that we would be at T–2:00 by 0713. Further complicating things, the EISCAT computer responsible for data analysis decided to freeze up. The analysis fell further and further behind; by 0730 we were nearly 20 minutes behind. We were unable to see directly if we had any outflow, but this arc looked very similar to other arcs we had seen, all of which had ion outflow. In continuing with our pretend, virtual countdown, Marc would have made the call to drop the count at 0730, so that we would launch at 0732. We would expect the rocket to reach apogee 7–8 minutes after launch. After reviewing the data, this event would have been worth launching into. Once EISCAT caught itself up, we saw that there was indeed outflow at the time of launch, further solidifying our virtual launch call as the correct call. This was our first launchable event!!! Even though it was heartbreaking that we missed it (and just barely) because of the winds, it certainly gave us hope that eventually, we will launch into the type of event we are looking for.

We were back in for winds at 0737, and we immediately brought the count down to T–2:00. Unfortunately, at this point the event appearing to weaken. We monitored it for another 10 minutes, and it became clear that we were too late, and it was not worth launching into.

We were far too busy monitoring data (and pulling our hair out) to spend much time taking pictures, so instead we present a picture from the payload buildup. This picture was taken approximately a week before the launch window opened.

                A portion of RENU payload assembly team, including both NSROC and science team members.

• 12/07/10 – Launch Window Day 10

Initial examination of solar and atmospheric weather conditions indicate that we made the correct decision to take yesterday off, but that fortune is smiling upon us and our luck may be changing. Atmospheric winds at the launch site are low, so we are &nquot;in&nquot; for winds. Furthermore, skies in Longyearbyen are clear, and the solar wind has picked up. Solar wind velocity is increasing, density is steady or increasing, and even the strength of the IMF (interplanetary magnetic field) is improving.

We have made a change to our launch window. Rather than the previous window of 0400 – 1000 LT, we have pushed things back by an hour to 0500 – 1100 LT. This brings us closer to our ideal launch time, which is close to noon MLT (approx. 0950 LT). It also means we will have less conflict with the next ECOMA rocket, which will go on their rail in a few days.

Perhaps my positive thoughts jinxed us, because when launcher was raised and put through its vertical checks, we had a recurrence of the problem with the ACS gyro. This piece of hardware is responsible for allowing an attitude solution be determined post&ndashflight, so that we know exactly where the rocket was pointed throughout the flight. It has been decided that this part must be replaced, which means we were grounded for the earlier part of the launch window. Sticking with the theme of the campaign, the NSROC team worked quickly and efficiently to replace the part broken part. The part was replaced by 0615 LT, and we were vertical and fully tested by 0730.

Toward the very end of the launch window, we did see some exciting science. There was a jump in the solar wind density from 0705 – 0725. There was a second jump in the density from 0740 – 0750. Both of these jumps in density resulted in a pressure pulse against the magnetopause, which we saw as a spike in auroral activity. Unfortunately, we didn't see any of the heating or ion outflow which we require to launch into. We counted down to T-minus 2:00, and held the count there for the final 30 minutes of the launch window. Unfortunately, with nothing to launch into, we scrubbed at 1000 LT and will hope for better results tomorrow.

• 12/06/10 – Launch Window Day 9

Today was a day off. NASA/NSROC employees are required to take off every 12th day of work during the launch window, and we decided that today would be a good day to take off, because of poor solar and atmospheric wind conditions. In hindsight, our decision was correct, because winds at the launch site were high throughout the morning, and solar wind conditions were terrible.

Check out this video of our drive up to the rendezvous site. The winds can be quite severe!

• 12/05/10 – Launch Window Day 8

Another day in which we are grounded due to winds at Andoya Rocket Range. But a change in our luck is coming, I can feel it!

It was a clear, beautiful morning in Longyearbyen, with sky full of stars but no visible aurora. The solar wind is weak, slow, and tenuous. But again, change is coming!

Because of NASA requirements that every 12th day of work on the launch must be an off day, we have opted to take tomorrow off. Tomorrow is forecast to be windy at the range, with very little geomagnetic activity. We will resume on Tuesday. Atmospheric winds are forecast to be much more favorable starting on Tuesday, and the solar wind is expected to pick up towards the end of the week (possibly Thursday, but more likely Friday or the weekend).

• 12/04/10 – Launch Window Day 7

We are still hoping for some cooperation from the atmospheric weather. First thing this morning, the rocket was put in its vertical position, because winds had been consistently low for hours. As luck would have it, the winds immediately picked up and became very gusty as soon as the rocket went vertical. The gusts destroyed some of the styrofoam enclosure in which the rocket sits. The styrofoam is insulation against the cold, as the rocket is heated. The NSROC crew worked diligently to repair the styrofoam box, but for the rest of the day we were grounded for winds. Here in Longyearbyen, skies are somewhat overcast, and temperatures are cold: 7 F, or –15 F with the wind chill.

The day started off in the right direction, as the solar wind picked up overnight. We woke up to a significant increase in the SW density, although the SW speed and magnitude of the IMF are still lower than preferred, but this is definitely a step in the correct direction. Furthermore, the radar signatures signatures showed electron heating and ion upflow early in today's launch window – both critical for satisfying launch conditions. Unfortunately, the good space weather did not last. After just two hours, although the solar parameters remained the same, the radar indicated that the ionosphere was very quiet and there was nothing even considering launching into. Atmospheric weather, namely winds, would not have allowed us to launch anyway.

However, there was still some great news out of the Andoya Rocket Range. ECOMA, the rocket with whom we were sharing our time, successfully launched at 0421 UT. This means that RENU is now the only rocket on the range, so if we do see conditions worth launching into, there are no longer any worries about which rocket will have priority.

         A successful launch by the German ECOMA team! Now if only RENU could follow with our own successful                                                                     launch.

• 12/03/10 – Launch Window Day 6

The weather seems to be unwilling to cooperate with us. Although the skies are clear and beautiful at Longyearbyen, the launch site in Andenes is overcast, windy, and rainy. We did not feel comfortable even putting the rocket in its vertical position, due to the onslaught of rain. The winds also kept us grounded.

The solar wind was also very uncooperative. The solar wind is tenuous, its magnetic field is extremely weak, and the velocity is extremely low. We must have better conditions before we can even begin to think about launching.

• 12/02/10 – Launch Window Day 5

After all of the trouble and delays, the LEOS finally arrived yesterday at around noon. The NSROC crew, always primed and ready to go, immediately installed the LEOS, put the nosecone back over the payload, and ran all tests to ensure all repairs were satisfactory. All indications indicate that this will be our first day ready to launch, but...

We are grounded again due to weather. The winds are blowing fiercely today with steady winds of 30+ mph at Longyearbyen. There are also severe winds down at the Andoya Rocket Range, which have been causing a multitude of problems, including extremely icy conditions as well as power failures. The stated reasons for canceling the launch today are "extreme winds and horizontal rain." Skies were clear at both Longyearbyen and Ny–Alesund, a definite improvement from the overcast conditions of the previous days.

Because we are grounded, Kjellmar has decided we will let a UK group use the radar for their purposes, even though we are the primary group. This is a purely diplomatic decision, as once we have a chance for launching, we can ask them for some time back in order to let us be the primary group. Just as teamwork is important for the two rocket teams trying to launch during this window, it is equally important for the various research teams sharing the EISCAT radar.

From a science standpoint, things were fairly quiet again today. The strength of the Interplanetary Magnetic Field (IMF), solar wind density, and solar wind velocities were all extremely low. However, there was weak aurora throughout the day. The aurora was both red and green, and although clearly visible on the all–sky imagers and cameras, it was right on the threshold of being visible to the naked eye. Things look much more promising in the upcoming days, as yesterday the sun launched a CME (coronal mass ejection), a solar event which corresponds with a significant increase in geomagnetic activity. The weather will also improve, as the winds should die down, and temperatures should continue to drop, resulting in clear skies.

         Satellite view of Svalbard. To the north, you can see the ice sheet, and the storm rages to the south.

• 12/01/10 – Launch Window Day 4

We are grounded again because of the ongoing LEOS issue. We are still waiting for the NASA employee to arrive. However, weather conditions would have grounded us even if there was no hardware problem. The other mission, ECOMA, with whom we are sharing our launch window, was also grounded due to cloud cover and high winds at Andoya Rocket Range. It is also overcast and snowing in Longyearbyen. Furthermore, solar wind conditions have been fairly quiet again. We saw several small upwelling events, but again nothing that we would have launched into, had the rocket been ready (and the weather cooperative).

While the rest of the team spent the day at the KHO, I accompanied Kjellmar Oksavik at the EISCAT (pronounced eye–scat) radar site. There, Kjellmar taught me about how the incoherent scatter radar system probes the ionosphere to measure various quantities, such as electron density, electron temperature, ion density, and ion outflow. All of these quantities are very important to the science behind RENU. Kjellmar was very patient with my dozens of questions, and is an apt instructor with a passion for his instrumentation. I look forward to spending more time at the EISCAT radar facility.

         A view inside the EISCAT facility, with Philip Fernandes working in the foreground, and Kjellmar Oksavik                                                    in the rear. Photo by Philip Fernandes.

• 11/30/10 – Launch Window Day 3

We continue to be grounded because of the LEOS problem. The NASA employee carrying the hardware was supposed to arrive in Andenes at approximately 1800 LT. He made it all the way to Tromso, where all flights were canceled due to ice, wind, and heavy precipitation. He is now on a ferry, taking a ~12hour boat trip from Tromso to Andenes. We'll have to wait another day to see how the drama unfolds.

From a science standpoint, conditions were extremely quiet today. There was not a single event that we could even consider launching into. It is still snowy and overcast, but hopefully as the week progresses, temperatures will drop and skies will clear. Current temps are still hovering around freezing.

To fill our time, Margit Dyrland took us dog–sledding with her team of dogs. Margit has a total of 9 dogs, one of which is only 4 months old (though you wouldn't know it by looking at him, big fella that he is). She split her dogs into two teams – one team of 3, pulling the smaller sled, and a team of 5, pulling a large, wooden, Greenlandic–style sled, built by Margit herself. Each sled had 2 people – the driver, standing up on the back of the sled, and a passenger sitting on the flat portion. Skies cleared up shortly before we departed, opening the gate for a majestic viewing experience. We headed out onto the tundra, underneath a clear sky shimmering with stars. We are outside the town of Longyearbyen, so there is little to no light pollution. The sky seems almost alien, filled with far more stars than you see in any populated area. You are surrounded by mountains, but the deep darkness doesn't allow you to see any of their details. It is more an impression of being surrounded by mountains, with their white, rocky ridges just viewable against the dark sky. The dogs run with boundless, unending energy, pulling the sled along at a steady clip. Because we had two people to a small team of dogs, we never got up to a high–rate of speed, but that never detracted from the enjoyment. It was an exhilarating experience, and my attempts at photography cannot capture the beauty and isolation. To cap off the adventure, some dim auroral arcs became visible near the end of our journey.

     Our first aurora sighting in Svalbard. Hopefully there will be plenty                                                                  more to follow! Photo by Philip Fernandes.

                                                                                      Photo courtesy of Allison Jaynes.

                           Photo courtesy of Allison Jaynes.

You can visit for more information about Margit's team. The page is in Norwegian (though Google Chrome will translate for you, if you use that particular browser). Or, just start clicking links at the top of the page, as they are full of pictures!

• 11/29/10 – Launch Window Day 2

We are still grounded because of the LEOS problem. From a science standpoint, today was moderately quiet. The solar wind is not overly active, and we had cloudy, snowy conditions at Longyearbyen. In other words, even without the hardware problems with the rocket itself, we would not have launched today, because of the cloudy skies and lack of interesting activity in the ionosphere.

There have been a multitude of strings which had to be pulled to try and get our hardware here as early as possible. A volunteer from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia was given the part and all of the papers necessary to get through security and customs. Just getting the necessary exportation paperwork was a major accomplishment. The NASA employee is expected to arrive at the Andoya Rocket Range on 11/30/10 at approximately 1800 LT, leaving enough time for the NSROC employees to replace the part, arm the motors, and prepare for the launch window to open at 0400 LT. Our hats go off to the NSROC and NASA employees. They have given maximum effort throughout this entire process, and this latest conundrum is truly pushing them to their limits. They are working long days, shifting schedules from day–shift to night–shift on a whim, and continue to do quality work. Their dedication to getting the job done quickly and correctly is admirable.

We also went on a tour of SVALSAT, a facility whose primary purpose is to track hundreds of polar orbiting satellites. The facility is one of the largest in the world of its kind, with 26 dishes. We were not allowed to take any pictures anywhere near or on the SVALSAT site. Their contribution to the RENU campaign is they allow a NASA telemetry ™ group to setup there, in order to receive telemetry data from the rocket. When the rocket launches, it is constantly transmitting information to several ground stations. The first is at the Andoya Rocket Range, the location from which the rocket launches. However, as the rocket travels away from ARR, eventually the signal is lost. There is a TM station in Tromso which picks the signal up after approximately 6 seconds of flight. Tromso and ARR both receive the signal redundantly, so that failure in one location does not result in complete loss of data. The TM group at SVALSAT picks up the signal at 124 seconds into the flight, and will receive data until the end of the flight.

• 11/28/10 – Launch Window Day 1

The launch window opened today! Today should have been a day of excitement and anticipation. Instead, it was a day of events beyond our control, all of which contributed to a launch delay. It is much warmer today than it has been over the last few days, and much warmer than we prefer. Temperatures are right around freezing, the sky is cloudy, and snow is falling. None of these conditions bode well for our "clear skies over Longyearbyen or Ny–Alesund" launch requirement. Nonetheless, we made the journey from our rooms at UNIS to the KHO (Kjell Henriksen Observatory). The journey to the KHO alone is quite an adventure! It begins with a 20 minute ride in a (preferably) 4WD vehicle, on the road seen in the photo from 11/27/10. Then, we must switch vehicles, to a tracked vehicle: the "belt–wagon". Riding in the back of the belt–wagon is similar to riding in an old, wooden, rickety roller coaster. A quick glance out the windows shows a dark, bleak, ominous landscape. The ride in the belt–wagon is short, perhaps 10 minutes, as the operator UNIS professor Dag Lorentzen is an expert winter driver. He also carries a Dirty Harry style hard caliber as protection from the polar bears.

         The belt-wagon, a tracked vehicle used for crawling up the tumultuous road to the KHO (Kjell Henriksen                                                   Observatory). Photo by Philip Fernandes.

As described on their website, the KHO maintains more than 15 optical instruments, as well as a suite of non–optical instruments. The optical observatory is located on the archipelago of Svalbard, about 15 km outside Longyearbyen or 1000 km north of mainland Norway. It is at this site that the downrange RENU science team will monitor the skies to determine if launch requirements are met.

         Inside the KHO. Everyone is clearly hard at work, despite a few hiccups during the launch countdown.                                                       Photos by Philip Fernandes.

Had everything gone according to schedule, we would have opened the launch window at 0400 local time (0300 UT). However, over the previous couple of days, we had slowly fallen behind in arming the rocket motors. Today, the NSROC team is continuing to work out all outstanding issues, and we are trying to push forward with the countdown. Our initial hope was to open the launch window several hours late, hopefully around 0700 or 0800 UT.

As luck would have it, we never got to open the launch window. At approximately 0700 LT, it was discovered that there is a problem with the LEOS. LEOS stands for Lateral Ejecting Ogive System, and is the mechanism responsible for proper removal of the nosecone. The nosecone is pushed off the front of the rocket, and a weight is thrown laterally, which by Newton's 3rd law forces the nosecone in the opposite direction (Newton's 3rd law is commonly summarized as "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction"). The NSROC team was uncomfortable with any of the proposed fixes to the LEOS, and have opted to have a new one flown in from the USA. This requires finding someone to hop onto a plane immediately, with the LEOS, with all of the proper exportation paperwork filed, on a Sunday over Thanksgiving weekend. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the LEOS will arrive as early as possible, so that repairs can be conducted and we can get the rocket back on the rail, armed and ready for launch.

Due to the LEOS issue, the launch window for Tuesday 11/29/10 has been canceled, and the window for Wednesday 11/30/10 is questionable.

• 11/27/10

Our first full day in Svalbard! We spent quite a bit of time relaxing today, as it is the final day before the launch window opens. Because of the launch window schedule, we are working on shifting our schedules to a night schedule. This will mean waking up at ~0200, and leaving for the observation site at approximately 0300, in order to be ready for the launch window to open at 0400.

Because we had a little bit of free time, we decided to take in what scenery we could see. Early in the morning, the entire island is beautifully lit up by the moon. A quick glance around shows that we are surrounded by jagged, snow-covered mountains. Because it is so cold, the skies are typically clear, and there are no trees, so sight-lines extend all the way to the nearest mountain. Everything is covered in snow, presenting the perfect conditions for a scenic, black–and–white, moonlit panorama.

     Moonlit view overlooking the road out to the KHO (Kjell Henriksen                                                Observatory). High exposure time makes the image much brighter                                                             than it actually is. Photo by Philip Fernandes.

                                                               A closer look at the harsh environment just outside Longyearbyen,                                                                                   Svalbard. Photo by Philip Fernandes.

     Overlooking the town of Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Photo courtesy of                                                                                  Allison Jaynes.

• 11/26/10

The graduate students traveled from the Andoya Rocket Range in Andenes, Norway, to the town of Longyearbyen on the island of Svalbard. The four graduate students are Philip Fernandes (Dartmouth College), Allison Jaynes (UNH), Erik Lundberg (Cornell University) and David Olson (University of Maryland).

Although Andenes is above the arctic circle, it still receives several hours of daylight, even at this time of year. As we flew further north, we could see that the only light from the Sun is now indirect.

         A shot of the Norwegian countryside, taken on the flight from Tromso to Longyearbyen. The sky became                         darker and darker the further north we traveled. Photo by Philip Fernandes.

In Svalbard, it is cold and dark. Temperatures are in the teens or single digits (Fahrenheit) and it is literally dark all day. We won't be seeing the Sun again until after we launch and head home!

The housing in which we are staying is provided by UNIS, the international university here on Svalbard. We have a vehicle – a large Toyota van, with studded tires, as all the vehicles here in Svalbard have. I was expecting something much more remote, but there are stores within walking distance (if you are dressed properly). There is an all–in–one grocery/mini-department store, several restaurants and cafes, clothing shops, and even Christmas specialty shop.

• 11/25/10

Happy Thanksgiving! Today is a busy day of getting the payload out of the payload assembly building and mounted to the motors, which are all mounted to the launch rails. This means that after a year of hard work, the detectors are no longer in our possession; they are now completely entrusted to the care of NSROC (NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract) employees.

Although it was a holiday, there was plenty of work to be done. We started with a tour of the Atmospheric Lidar Observatory for Middle Atmospheric Research. ALOMAR supports the Andoya Rocket Range with ground-based instrumentation.

                            A photo of one of the ALOMAR lidar instruments. Photo by Philip Fernandes.

After our tour of ALOMAR, the graduate students came back to the range to begin packing for our new destination: the town of Longyearbyen, on the island of Svalbard, Norway. The longitude of Longyearbyen is 78°13'N. At this time of year, Longyearbyen is engulfed in 24 hours of darkness.

We have one final order of business before we can leave for Svalbard – a Thanksgiving feast, with contributions from nearly every member of the RENU team. The team was required to work extremely late, and cooking took the entire afternoon and evening, but once everything came together, it was a true Thanksgiving dinner which will never be forgotten.

        Somehow, someone found turkey in Norway. There         What Thanksgiving meal is complete without a         was much more traditional fare than expected,              dozen desserts? No pumpkin pie – the Norwegians         considering our remote location. Photo courtesy of          thought we were crazy when we asked where to                                  Allison Jaynes.                              buy canned pumpkin. Photo courtesy of Allison                                                                                                              Jaynes.

       The RENU family, celebrating Thanksgiving together thousands of miles from home. Photo by Philip Fernandes.