Wanaka in Film (Roll #2)

Milford Sound I started a second roll of film (Lomography 100 again) after compatibility. I ended up shooting most of it during a tourist flight to, and cruise around, Milford Sound. I went there with Emaad, Vy, and David. With a promising launch-attempt (turned launch) approaching, I finished the roll with an obligatory trip to the “famous” Wanaka tree. […]

Launch Day

Last good look at SuperBIT Oops! After all the chaos of launch day, and the flight, and … life … I forgot to upload all my photos from launch day. Here they are at last. Late on April 15 we showed up to prepare for our first (and it turns out only) launch attempt. After a rush of activity doing all our pre-flight checks, we spend much of the rest of the day waiting and fretting. And, in my case, taking a few (hundred) photographs. […]


Bird's eye After compatibility, we had a few more I’s to dot and T’s to cross, and we lost a few people. But mostly we were ready to go, and were settling in for what was expected to be a long haul of waiting and attempting to launch. Some windy days gave us a chance to take a little bit of pre-flight vacation time. […]

SuperBIT launch!

A day and something ago (what even is time?), late on Sunday morning, SuperBIT launched! On a Super Pressure Balloon from beautiful Wanaka, New Zealand. I have had few moments in between where I haven’t been frantic or grabbing a bit of precious sleep. So far things appear to be working well, and the balloon seems healthy. More to come. This news article contains a NASA video from the launch. […]

Compatibility and Posing

SuperBIT sunrise The final major technical hurdle before SuperBIT can launch was its April 3 Compatiblity test. We rolled outside and connected all of the balloon and satellite electronics to make sure everything worked together. It did. There was also a little bit of final preparation to do beforehand, mainly finishing up the DRSes (Data Recovery Systems), which are essentially hard drives on parachutes that we can use for “high bandwidth downlink”. SuperBIT being fully assembled outside also provides a good photo opportunity, so lots of people came outside to pose with it. The test passed fine, and we then started to wait for a potential launch day that checks all the weather and safety boxes. Our first such potential day is here, and I write this in a short gap between preparations. […]

Wanaka in Film (Roll #1)

Overlook point I discovered that Wanaka has a camera shop with same-day film processing, so I asked Bill bring my Nikon FM with him. After barely shooting on it for a while, I made it my goal for the partial day off Sunday to finish off my test roll of the Lomo film. I walked along the Clutha River near where I’m staying in Albert Town, outside Wanaka. It’s starting to be noticeably early fall here and getting colourful. A nice time to have colour film loaded. […]

Arts and Crafts and Repairs

Attempted astrophotography at airport With BIT’s functionality tested, it was time to shift to major arts and crafts mode. All of BIT gets covered in some combination of insulation foam, tape, and shiny aluminized mylar. The exact proportions of each are carefully chosen to keep each part thermally happy in the stratosphere. Some of this had previously been done inside the outer frame and around the telescope, but outside the outer frame needs a lot of it before we can fly. With the arrival of Bill we reached peak team size. But we also started shrinking later in the week when Steven had to leave us. […]

Night Testing

Nighttime observing During my second week, the main goal was to point BIT at the sky to test operations from the ground. This first involved some final assembly, followed by a few days of long and late shifts. After more clear nights than we expected, we were happy with the testing and moved BIT back away from the door to proceed with more flight preparation. That is, doing all the extra preparation needed to actually operate in the stratosphere, not just from the ground. We were also joined by the “Durham crew”: Ellen (now in Sydney), David, and Richard. And at the end of the week, were briefly visited by the NASA Administrator and Deputy Administrator, while they were visiting New Zealand for other reasons. For my day off, I tried out the disc golf course. Other maybe-players all decided on long drives or hikes instead, but after the previous weekend’s adventure I felt like something more chill. […]

Skyline Track

Observation point selfie On a beautiful half-Saturday off, Susan and I decided to hike the Skyline Track. This started with a hike up Mount Roy, a popular viewing spot around the lake from the town of Wanaka. There were a ton of people (and sheep and cows) on this part of the track, including some fellow balloonatics from the EUSO group, who are also preparing to launch here. Though instead of descending the way we came up, we took the longer through-route to the Cardrona Valley. From Roy’s Peak, we followed the ridge over to Mount Alpha, which is the main reason we decided to go this way. The ridge did not disappoint! Following Mount Alpha was a straightforward but long descent to a little roadside carpark where (with Emaad’s help) we’d previously stashed Susan’s rental car to get home. […]

The Beginning

Barth's Safety Style After a brief break back home, I head back to New Zealand to join the SuperBIT team preparing for a launch from Wanaka. Much of the hardware team had arrived a couple weeks before I did, and had set up the lab, cleaned the telescope, and started to put things together. During my first week we put everything together in a form that’s ready for full-system ground testing, if not quite ready for the rigours of the stratosphere. Wanaka is also beautiful. A person could get used to launching balloons from here. […]