Friday, January 18, 2008

A collection of email updates from Svalbard

Date: 28 December 2007

Subject: preliminary Norway update

Hei på deg,

By parental request, I will try to send frequent updates about SCIFER-2, the rocket that we have been preparing to launch for the past year. I'm not sure how much free time I will have once I get to Norway, so I figure I would get a head start and send an email before I even leave! If you want me to stop sending you these emails, just ask, or if you know of anyone who would like to be getting them, let me know.

In case I don't follow through with updates, here is our page that might get updated during the launch campaign:
Currently I don't think any of the SCIFER-2 links are working, but there are other rocket pages you can look at if you want.

Here is a link to the science center where I will be working:
A different picture comes up every time you load the page, so if you want to see more photos just keep refreshing the page.

Also, you may or may not be aware, but I am borrowing some cold weather gear. This includes a mansuit, and large boots. I have attached some photos for your viewing pleasure.

I will be on the mainland of Norway for the first couple days, and then I will be on Svalbard for the launch.

Here is some general info I have:
Population of Longyearbyen (city I will be in mostly): 1,800
latitude: 78 degrees (which is above the arctic circle, so it will be dark the entire time I'm there)



Date: 31 December 2007

Subject: Happy New Year('s eve) from Norway!

Well even though I am celebrating the New Year earlier than you, it won't be for some more hours. I have a short break before we head to town to buy some fireworks and get dinner. There is only one restaurant in town and they are closing early tonight.

The Dartmouth page is being updated, if you haven't looked. There are a few new pictures posted:

Tomorrow the NASA guys have the day off, and then the launch window opens from the 2nd to the 15th. Basically we wait for good conditions and watch all sorts of charts until things are looking the way we want them to. If you are interested, one of the pages I like to look at is the Space Weather Now page ( There is an image of the sun, where you can see sunspots (if there are any). Also, in the top right corner it says if there have been any storms (which are good, they give us a lot of activity and interesting science). The best plot is the one on the bottom left. In order to launch we want the solar wind speed to go way up (around 600 km/s), the magnetic field Bz component to go away from zero (in either positive or negative direction, we are not picky), and the pressure to go up.

The Carrington Rotation (rotation of the sun) is a 28 day cycle, and it usually repeats regularly, so we can predict when we might get good conditions for launching. We've got a pool going, and my kroners are on the 8th, so wish me luck!


Date: 3 January 2008

Subject: I made it to Svalbard!

So I just arrived in Longyearbyen, which is so very cold and windy. There are wind gusts at 22 m/s, which is more than 44mph wind gusts, if you were wondering. The past two days it has been warmer (slightly above freezing temp.) so it was raining and everything is covered in ice. So basically I stand outside, and I get pushed right down the road from the wind.

At any rate, it is an amazing town from what I can tell. I haven't taken any photos yet, but when I do I will be sure to send them on.

As for the rocket, we haven't launched it yet. I think they are still working on clearing roads, plus there wasn't very interesting science today. On our webpage ( there is a link on the side that says space weather, and on the bottom of that page we have all sorts of webpages listed that are relevant for Scifer-2. I just added pages with weather forecasts for Longyearbyen, so you can check that out.

I am currently at UNIS, which is the college here. I guess this is where we will be until they can clear the roads to the other sites. As always, I'll be sure to keep you updated!



Date: 3 January 2008

Subject: also

I just found this cool webpage with Svalbard webcams, and quite a few of them are in Longyearbyen:


Date: 5 January 2008

Subject: report from Svalbard


So much has been going on here since I last had a chance to email. Yesterday was our first day up at KHO, which is the auroral observatory. It is located out of town to reduce light pollution. The road had been cleared up to the mine (so the workers could get in), and the avalanche danger passed, so we drove up to the mine, and then rode in a bandwagon the rest of the way (another 5 minutes or so). When we got to the station there was a huge snowbank just outside the door (probably 8 feet tall), so the more daring of the group were sliding down the slope right into the front door.

Last night the plow finally came through and cleared it all out. So today we drove all the way up to the station. Today the scientific conditions have been great, but we cannot launch due to high winds at the launch site. There are strong northward winds, which would actually catch the fins on the motors and change the direction of the rocket to go southward, which would be bad. So we are out for winds today. The launch window is nearly over, and it doesn't look like the wind is going to die down, so I don't think we will be launching today.

Also, yesterday we got a tour of Eiscat, which is pretty sweet. You can see photos here:
It was too dark for me to take any pictures of the dishes, but they are absolutely huge.

Then last night when we got back into town, and again after dinner, we saw a Svalbard reindeer, which is white! I did get a picture of him, so I will attach that.

Okay we just decided to close the launch window for today, so I need to pack up and get ready to head out.



Date: 5 January 2008

Subject: rocket blog

Marc Lessard, one of the Co-Investigators for this rocket, who is a professor at UNH is writing in a rocket blog for Scifer-2. He is doing some sort of project with a group of high schoolers, so he gives pretty good explanations of the rocket for people with a non-scientific background.

So if you are interested:


Date: 9 January 2008

Subject: no launch yet..

Well things in Longyearbyen are about the same. I was really hoping yesterday would be our launch day, but it was not. It was, however, the first day of the window that we were "in for winds" which was a nice change. Every other day it was too windy to launch, and sometimes even too windy to raise the rocket to vertical. Right now I'm not sure if we are in for winds or out for winds, but we aren't seeing any great science yet, so it doesn't really matter.

Last night we tried to go to the northernmost thai restaurant, but it was still not open. There was a different restaurant open, so we went there, but it wasn't very "norwegian" like The Husset, which is the place we normally go.

On Monday we took a walk into town, which is pretty safe. People walk around here all the time, but I was never sure if they were carrying guns for polar bear protection or not, but apparently in town it is okay to not be armed. I took a picture of the town, which I've attached.

I also attached a picture of the sign we drive by every day on our way to the observatory. The Norwegian translates to something like "On All of Svalbard".

I think that is all for now. As always, wish us luck!



Date: 10 January 2008

Subject: aurora sighting!

This morning as we were arriving at the observatory we saw some brilliant aurora overhead. Fred Sigernes was outside taking photos, which I've attached. The fourth one, with people, is Paul Kitner (PI), me, Erik Lundberg (Cornell grad student), and Marc Lessard (UNH co-investigator) from left to right.

Also, the dartmouth webpage is being updated regularly:

On that page you can find a link to the UNH blog which gives a lot of good info on the rocket, and it is written for people without a scientific background.



Date: 13 January 2008

Subject: meeting the queen of Norway


We haven't launched our rocket yet, but there is still the window today. Tomorrow we have to take a day off, because NASA has some rule about their engineers only being able to work 14 consecutive days.

However, the big news for tomorrow is that the Queen of Norway is coming to KHO (the observatory where we are stationed), for a visit. Apparently she really likes Svalbard. I think she is a pretty great queen. You can read about her on wikipedia if you want:

Also, since we don't have the opportunity to launch tomorrow I'm hoping to spend some time at EISCAT, which is the radar station just down the road from here. You can see some pretty great pictures of the huge radar dishes here:



Date: 16 January 2008

Subject: eventful svalbard

HEI! So many eventful things have been going on since I last wrote.

1. The queen got sick and had to cancel her trip to Svalbard. Everyone was very disappointed.

2. We left the observatory on monday, by driving down to the mine in the bandwagon since the road was not clear enough for a car, and when we tried to start our car it was completely dead. The guys decided it would be a good idea to try to push the car downhill a bit to see if that would help it start. It did not, but it was a great photo opportunity.

2 and a half. Two polar bears were spotted near Longyearbyen. One was on the plateau (which isn't really near us), and the other was in the valley (which is the route we drive to the station every day).

3. For the day off on tuesday, I planned to go with Hanna (the swedish grad student who works on optical instruments, that we may use in comparison with rocket data) to EISCAT. EISCAT is the ground radar station, and they do some pretty sweet stuff there, so I thought I would check it out for a day. I got to sleep in because we didn't leave until 5am. It was pretty windy, and Hanna had been warned that the roads might not be great. So she brought the rifle along, in case we ended up needing to walk the last stretch of road to EISCAT, for safety reasons (see point 2 and a half). Well it turns out there was a snowbank of indeterminable size that we determined was quite large upon getting Hanna's truck stuck in it. We couldn't even back out. Luckily while we were trying to make our decision about who to call, a snowplow came by and helped pull us out. If you leave a car stuck in the snow it is quickly buried and could take hours to shovel out. So we drove back down to town, and that was the end of my EISCAT adventure. I did take (and attach) a picture of this, but all you can really see is the snow.

4. Last night Hanna and I saw the movie Far North. They had a premiere of it at The Huset (which translates to house). The director and actors (including Michelle Yeoh from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) were all there to introduce the film. It was filmed largely in Svalbard and there were some locals in the movie, so it was a big deal to see it. I think half of the population of Svalbard was there. I don't think I would recommend the movie though. It had really great shots of the scenery here, but the movie (especially the end) was extremely intense.

5. The weather is still quite blustery here. The space weather is looking more interesting today. Unfortunately it is too windy at the launch site to raise the rocket, so we just wait. Including today we only have 5 days left in the window, so we are really hoping we get some good launch conditions soon.

6. The other day I took a picture of the sky at noon, when you can just start to see a bit of light, so I attached that as well.



Date: 18 January 2008

Subject: LAUNCHED!

We just launched our rocket at 07:30UT. Everything worked nominally and it seems we have good data!

very verry exciting!!


Date: 18 January 2008

Subject: local confusion about our rocket

The local newspapers are having a good time with this one:

Here it has been reported "UFO over Senja":

Also, it has been confirmed by astronomers to be a large meteor: