Project HALO Status Report

Sky Launch 1, Attempt 1 -- Scrub in Cerro Gordo

Held on Saturday, March 22, 1997 in Cerro Gordo, North Carolina

The following text was taken, with permission, from an article by Greg Allison, HALO Program Manager, which was published in the March-April 1997 issue of the Southeastern Space Supporter, newsletter of HAL5.

A Little Pause at the Ragged Edge of Greatness

We have stood tippy toed on the ragged edge of greatness, ready to leap into history and the chasms of the great unknown, yet to make sure we had everything as right as it could be, as indeed it should be -- we paused -- for a moment.

Ready to Go -- Almost

Well there we were on the 22nd of March ready to go.  The skies were clear and there was little wind, the balloon was inflated, the rocket was fueled, electronics checked out, the FAA said go, our recovery boat had dispatched into the Atlantic.  All systems were go.  Safety shunts were removed, rocket and launcher systems were activated and running.

Just as we were about to launch the rockoon one of the cutdown squibs which was intended to bring down the launcher and balloon after the mission fired.  A moment later another one fired, the third one fired.  We had a problem....

Radio Interference in Gondola Electronics

We huddled and determined that each cutdown squib had fire in program sequence, just a few orders of magnitude sooner than we had programmed them to.  We determined that the problem was caused by interference between the Amateur TV (ATV) transmitters and the timers which controlled the cutdown squibs.  As it turned out these timers, which were on the gondola, had not been subjected to an end to end systems test with the rest of the gondola electronics. As our dear friend Murphy would have it they had a shielding problem which made them susceptible to this failure mode.

Our lead electronics man Ed Myszka said he was 99.98 percent sure the interference was the reason for the failure.  His logic seemed to be dead on target.  But in the end we felt it better to err on the side of caution and take the system back home for further testing.  It was decided that there could be no doubt.  (Testing once we returned home validated Ed Myszka's contentions.)

No Problem With the HALO Rocket

Now to make matters clear there was no danger of the rocket firing prematurely.  The rocket firing logic did not depend upon timers. It was command uplink controlled.  Furthermore those electronics had been system tested extensively with the ATV downlinks running.

One other point is worth bearing in mind.  There was nothing wrong with the rocket; there was nothing wrong with the balloon.  We could have flown that mission on the 22nd of March.  The last rockoon attempt out of that area (conducted by the South East Community College) did not even have cutdown squibs.  The FAA does require redundant systems to bring down an unmanned balloon, however our mission termination point would have been in international waters where FAA regulations cannot strictly be applied.

The Right Decision -- A Good Example

Technically we could have flown, so why didn’t we fly?  That day, the burden of all those who wish to follow us lay on our shoulders. If we had taken actions that even appeared to border on the side of irresponsibility the FAA might never grant such flight waivers again.  And remember, we had an approval to fly a space mission in an age in which people are afraid of anything bearing a rocket crossing aviation airspace.  That is a trust worth guarding.

I ask all those that would follow us to swallow their pride and follow our lead when the occasion calls so that we may keep the skies open for amateur space shots.  It is not easy to scrub a mission that can fly when you have worked on it for two and a half years, when you've organized all the logistics, when you have to destroy a $1,200 balloon, vent $500 worth of helium, and call back a $300 recovery boat.

I commend the HALO team for staking out a course of responsibility and standing tall when the decisions were tough.  These guys made stupendous sacrifices to make that day happen.  The HALO team proved its heroic character on the 22nd of March.  I must say that I am extremely proud of each one of these members for their courage to make the tough decision, and their drive to continue on beyond that.

Back at it Again -- History Beckons!

We are preparing for our next launch attempt.  The timers on the cutdowns are gone.  Everything now is command uplink.  Mil-standard type enclosure boxes and connectors are fully incorporated.  Everything is being fully system tested.  Now we are ready to make history and launch into space!  If the FAA will permit we want to fly on the 3rd on May, else shortly after.

Join with us in this moment of greatness!  This time we launch into space!  As you can see this is a very exciting time to be in HAL5.  We are going to space!  We will go again and again!  You can be a part of these history breaking missions.  Just contact us and we will find a place for you!  Ad Astra per HALO!

[an error occurred while processing this directive]