Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Work and the station building

Life continues to go well at the SP. I have been working long hours as we have a very busy schedule between the two of us satcom engineers. The three satellites that we support are tracked at various times in a 24 hour period and one of us must be present in the Network Operations Center to verify the uplink and downlink. Procedures are in place for various problems that can develop. Some can be fixed with a computer but other problems require a trip to one of the two radomes - a sometimes grueling task.

The internet is really slow here so I won't be blogging as often as I did from McMurdo last winter. It also takes a few hours to upload a dozen pictures - a very tedious process.

In front of the GOES and Skynet radome.

My group will be towing this Skynet antenna out beyond the "Dark Sector", which has several research telescopes, to check for RF interference.

I watched a Twin Otter, like this one, take off from the Pole last week. En-route to the Italian Station it crashed in the Trans-Antarctic Mountains. A few days ago a rescue plane spotted the tail of the crashed Otter on top of Mt. Elizabeth at 13,000 feet. There were no survivors.

Skynet antenna.

Twin Otter aircraft used by the USAP.

A small but nice library.

Antarctic archives - a great selection of books about Antarctic exploration.

A warm and cozy place to relax, read and nap.

A Skynet power supply failed on Sunday. So we replaced it.

The UPS power supply weighed over 100 pounds so we drove it out in one of my favorite vehicles of last winter in McMurdo - a Pisten Bully.

On the way back from the radome there was a memorial being held for the three Canadians that were onboard the Twin Otter. A Canadian flag was planted at the Pole.
Copied from: —by Peter West

To meet the challenge of drifting snow, the new station is designed with the profile of a sleek airplane wing. It is elevated and faces into the prevailing near-constant 10 to 15 mph wind, which flows above and below the station. The fast-moving winds beneath the station effectively help scour the area of snow, thereby greatly reducing the need for manual excavation. However, because some snow buildup is inevitable, the building also sits on 36 uniquely designed hydraulic jack columns that allow the 65,000-square-foot structure to be raised in 25-centimeter (10-inch) increments, thereby effectively adding decades to its building life.
Another problem involves the 'ground' supporting the structure. Actually, it sits on a glacier almost two miles deep that slides 33 feet toward the sea each year. And because different parts of glaciers move at different speeds, buildings are in constant danger of being ripped apart. So the connecting walkways between building modules are designed to be flexible. To ease fuel consumption, the structure is insulated to five times the value of the average U.S. residence.

Finally, builders faced the challenge of getting nearly 40,000 tons of construction materials to a site that has no roads, railroads or other type of access infrastructure. The facility was designed so that all parts could be shipped in the cargo bay of ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules aircraft.

The result is a city in miniature—when even includes a NASA plant-growth chamber to help augment supplies of fresh food. The W-shaped structure will accommodate NSF's Antarctic research program at the Pole, which includes 150 people during the three-month austral summer and 50 people during the remaining nine months.

First floor of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. I live in Wing A1 housing to the right. My work station is in Wing B3.

2nd Floor. The two long passegeways (levels 1&2) are about 500 feet long while the wings are 150 feet. 

An aerial view of the station.

This view shows "summer camp" housing in the top left. It doesn't look too inviting.

This is the conversation I had with my wife. I wondered how I got here!

The South Pole markers

It was a beautiful day to be outside with a bright blue sky and a bearable -30 degrees. The temperature at McMurdo today is a balmy +32. It has been an unusually warm summer in McMurdo and because of this the C-17’s with their large cargo capacity have not been flying as the Pegasus Runway is slushy. The airfield is called Lake Pegasus now even though the ice is 300 feet thick as the top is melting. As a result the last package mail to reach the Antarctic was early December. This also includes fresh fruits and vegetables.

It seemed like you could see forever today. I visited the ceremonial South Pole globe, which is like a barber pole, and then to the real Geographic South Pole that moves 33 feet a year. It’s hard to think of the 10,000 feet of ice here sliding across the continent. Each winter a new geodesic marker is designed and constructed by the winterovers and placed at the new pole position. So this winter I will help with the design for the 2014 marker and will have my name etched on it.

LC-130 ready to unload and load.

The ceremonial South Pole marker along with the flags of those countries who are in the Antarctic Treaty.

The 2013 geodesic marker designed by last year's winterovers. Signatures are etched on the bottom.

The ceremonial Pole behind me.

South Pole telescopes.

The "Beer Can" gives access to the station and tunnel to the power plant, vehicle maintenance facility and cold storage.

The transportation vehicle of choice.
Standing on the bottom of the earth.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Satellite Communications

After several days of acclimating to the altitude I am feeling better. The station is at 9,300 feet but the air pressure makes it feel more like 10,500. I have been told to take it easy for the first few weeks and to keep hydrating with plenty of water. It was also recommended to stay out of the gym for the first two weeks. Frequent naps help to live with the 30% less oxygen.

I am learning my new job as a satellite communications engineer. There are two of us supporting the winter. We are responsible for operations and maintenance of all things Satcom. The station utilizes three satellites and tracking antennas to keep the station internet and phone (voice over internet protocol) system operational 12-15 hours per day. There is also an Iridium satellite phone system that can be used 24 hours a day. In other words my partner and I are the station’s internet service providers. It’s a big deal here because of all the science research that is uploaded through the various systems and sent throughout the world. And of course the station personnel want their internet. The bandwidth is small but it does work.

The three satellites are GOES (a retired weather satellite), Skynet (a retired NATO satellite), and the South Pole Transfer Data and Relay Satellite (TDRS) Relay (SPTR2). 

All three operate at a very low (< 1 degree) elevation and are controlled from a satcom work station. We man this work station whenever one of the satellites is scheduled for a pass. This entails working split shifts to cover the 24 hour day. It is similar to what I did in McMurdo last winter except not as automated and the customers are on station.

TDRS antenna.

TDRS RF shed.

9 meter GOES Antenna.

The antennas are about 3/4 mile from the station - a long walk in the cold.

South Pole Skynet antenna.

The Vehicle Maintenance Facility on the right. Cold storage to the left of that then the power plant on the left.

Tunnel leading to the power plant.

My room - small but nice.

Cold storage - lots of food.

Plenty of storage.

Nice desk.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The South Pole Achieved!

Check-in time for today’s South Pole Flight was at 0845 so it was another leisurely morning. A Delta passenger truck carried us three passengers along with the flight crew of six. We boarded the LC-130 Hercules at noon but one of the engines failed at power up and it took two hours to replace the fuel switch on that engine. In the meantime I talked with the pilot who invited me up to the cockpit for the flight.

What a thrill! I sat on the flight deck with the pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, and navigator. It was a pretty bumpy take off on the skids but soon we were airborne and the magnificent continent came into a view very few people see. About 1 ½ hours later we reached the Trans-Antarctic mountain range and what a sight to behold. As we crossed the TA, as they are called, at 15,000 feet I wondered how Amundsen and Scott crossed these mountains to reach the South Pole. Soon we were flying over flat ice steadily rising to 10,000. The LC-130 altitude increased to compensate for the ice rise.

After three hours the South Pole was in sight and we made an exciting landing. I said my goodbyes to the crew and stepped onto the South Pole ice. The engines stayed running as the plane can only sit on the ground for 30 minutes before having to take off again. It’s a harsh environment on anything mechanical especially aircraft.

I was met by two of my new co-workers who immediately took my bags and made me welcome. Once inside the station the three of us went to a quick orientation then assigned our rooms. Two of us huffed and puffed as we climbed one set of stairs and I thought - altitude sickness. Yes, I have it. It’s like a bad hangover. The air pressure put the altitude at 10,500 feet. The station recommends drinking 5 liters of water a day and plenty of rest.

A Delta.

Mt. Erebus as seen from Pegasus Airfield.

The airfield restroom.

The firehouse.

One of two control towers. I sure like the tracked truck.

Passenger terminal.

My chariot awaits.

My luggage is on this pallet.

Only Three of us.

Working on one of the engines.

On the flight deck - the flight engineer in front of me and the pilot to the left.

On the way to the South Pole.

The navigator.

The Trans-Antarctic Mountain Range.

At the South Pole.

I'm hunched over on the flight deck as there is no headroom for me.

The South Pole achieved!

Amundsen - Scott South Pole Station. My home for the next 10 months. My room is in the last wing on the right.

A highlight of my life. What a privilege and honor.