1.7 - Last day in the Azores: After an intense couple of days at Santa Maria Azores our journey would finally be coming to an end. Looking back on our experiences it can be said that we all have seemed to have come to certain conclusions. Among the first things that stood out on our trip was the nature and topography. From the very first time we laid eyes on the Azorean islands the whole team was awestruck by the spectacular precipices, bountiful vegetation and the glimmering Atlantic – something that was very special and breath-taking for us all. The last day of our trip was one of the most special days in terms of exploring the varying island of Santa Maria. On the part of the island that we were most acquainted with (nearby our hotel), the landscape was very flat with brown grass covering the volcanic rock so easily found around the island. Santa Maria is very special in the sense that old volcanic ash and rock has broken down into a clay-based soil used for pottery. This adds a dark red, brownish tint to the soil. Beneath this finely ground soil is volcanic rock, greyish-black in appearance, contributing to an almost outer-planetary feel. Throughout the island there are patches of bushes and low growing trees. All of this put together makes for a very harsh, windswept landscape devoid of any significant colours. This does not mean that we thought that the landscape surrounding the hotel were in anyway dull – on the contrary – it was an experience somewhat similar to the Icelandic grasslands.
What was really spectacular on this day was our bus trip from the hotel to the mountains, featuring an entirely different layout of the landscape and the vegetation. We were taken to an observation platform above one of the Azorean natural beaches. Here great peaks rose out of the sea at extreme angles, with pools of seawater with the bluest gradient I had ever seen. Waves crashed far down. Small trees and bushes growing on the enormous volcanic cliffs walls truly combined added to a feeling of being in paradise. As is custom in the Azores, the sky was covered by thick clouds. We had the luck to witness the clouds parting for a few moments, giving the effect of seeing a black and white photograph in colour – the sea glowed ever more brightly, the treetops seemed to glow green. It should be said that the vegetation growing on these Azorean peaks was the lushest and most densely packed I had ever seen. I many times wondered how many species one could find in only one square meter – probably a lot more than anyone would care to count:) Another observation regarding the greenery on the island of Santa Maria was concerning the trees. As if by some kind of magic soil only found on the islands, the trees seemed to be completely perfect. On many occasions we saw trees without a single irregularity in its rigidness, bark, and leaves. These trees often grew closely packed together with the forest floor hosting some sort of large leaved bush. What was really magical about these forests was the way the sunlight was for the most part completely blocked by the trees, however certain parts of the forest were illuminated by a single strand of sunlight, as if a spotlight was pointed down on it. As if someone had designed the island by selection, hand picking to attain a maximal beauty, exotic butterflies and flowers of various kinds blessed the greenery with bright colours. All in all, a truly magical experience!
As part of our exploration of the island of Santa Maria we visited the two most important space infrastructures on the island. We first went to the RAEGE facility where we saw a VLBI (Very Long Based Interferometry antenna) in action. The facility was located on a hill on the northern side of the island on one the peaks of Santa Maria. As we approached the science base we immediately made out a giant antenna pointed at the sky. On our guided tour we were told that the antenna was used for tracking shifts in the tectonic plates. The island of Santa Maria, along with the rest of the Azores is a great place to this kind of research as three tectonic plates all converge at this location. The antennas, we were told, were pointed at a distant, inanimate quasar. Through triangulation, scientists can calculate how much the three plates move, taking measurements accurate to one millimetre. The research information can be, for example, used to detect earthquake build-up. The research facility also hosted a seismograph, used for recording earthquakes. It was really fun to see the seismograph spike when we started jumping up and down on the floor.
After a quick tour around the base we proceeded to look at the actual antenna. If we had had any doubts about the size of the structure, they quickly disappeared once our necks were well and truly craned up into the sky. If this multimillion structure wasn’t awesome enough, we got to see it in action. Without warning the antenna started rotating with a fair bit of speed, scanning for the very distant quasar. It’s incredible to thank that such a (relatively) small thing could possibly pick up signals coming from an object that seems so infinitely far away. To round the experience up, the sky let us know it was time to move on through a heavy rain shower.
Jumping back onto our bus, a vehicle much too big for the tiny islands roads, we proceeded onto the ESA Santa Maria Tracking Station. Following is a citation given by our organisers about the facility “Santa Maria is one of the first Estrack stations with launcher tracking capability and is used to receive real-time telemetry from launches originating from ESA's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. It is capable of tracking Ariane 5, and was first used to track the launch of ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV)Jules Verne in early 2008.” How cool was it to be inside a rocket control station? -Very. Something that also caught our interest was the fact that the station could monitor activities out at sea through satellite images. Oil spills and erratic vehicular activities were some of the things that the facility actively monitored, reporting to the authorities when any illegal activity was spotted. We were shown what an oil spill out at sea looked like, along with the huge size and impact it has on the ocean.
After the island tour it was time to catch a quick bite to eat and then continue on to the airport. Our plane was somewhat delayed, but personally I wasn’t fazed seeing as we had the opportunity to watch a thrilling penalty shootout between Spain and Russia. We arrived late at night in the beautiful city of Lisbon. We were all tired, but still looked forward to a much-needed stay at the local Radisson Blu – an old acquaintance from our previous trip to Norway. As we exited the airport we saw a taxi queue with proportions on length we had not thought were possible. After a silent agreement that we were not going to be spending our night waiting in a line, we scurried of to a bus stop and enjoyed a very fast (speed limits seemed to only be rough guidelines) bus ride to the hotel. We were scheduled for a 4am wake-up call, which, of course, meant that we thought it wise to go to sleep as late as possible. After a much too brief a slumber we continued on to the airport, caught our flight, and returned back to home sweet home.
If it hasn’t already been said enough, we are all unbelievably thankful for the opportunity to compete in the CanSat competition this year. The whole team was enriched by marvelous new experiences, getting to know so many amazing people, and expanding our understanding on so many levels. So long to our beloved readers :)
29.6. Retrieval of CanSat: After an extremely suspenseful 8 hour wait we were finally told that we could join the retrieval team in search of our CanSat. We had been told that our satellite had been seen but had landed in an area with difficult terrain. During the wait we had prepared a presentation template where we would simply add our results upon retrieval of our CanSat. At around 7pm we learned that this was not in fact the case. Nobody had seen our CanSat.
When we were told that our CanSat had not been found we immediately wanted to join the search. We took a bus to the launch site where we met the retrieval team. They had been searching the whole day and had come out empty. We decided that it might still be worth to have a look around and commenced a systematic search of the nearby fields.
In the end we came out empty despite our efforts. After all of the effort put into the day leading up to the retrieval of our CanSat we were all quite fatigued. Most of the data we had set out to collect was lost since our SD card containing our readings had not been found. We also had to make a new Powerpoint and come up with a new approach for representing our results to the judges. We accepted our fate, ordered some pizza, and set to work.
A huge thank you is due for the retrieval team for showing such persistence and enthusiasm during the lengthy search for our CanSat!
29.6 - Launch Day: Today was solely dedicated to the launch of our CanSat. We woke up early and were given a lengthy safety briefing regarding the launch procedure. We were told to, for example, watch out for falling rocket parts which would land somewhere in our area. Afterwards we took a bus to the launch site, a tent laid out on a flat grass plain next to the ocean. We unpacked and got ready for the launch. Antennas, eyes and cameras fixed on the launchpad, team Skylark eagerly waits for the launch, a culmination point consisting of six months hard work.
As the rocket ascended into the clouds above, a pillar of smoke left behind, the team scanned the clouds for signs of our satellite. We finally identified what looked like our setup, a can dangling of our red parachute, spinning gently as upon descent. We pointed our antenna at our can as it descended and noticed a loss of signal. This was bizarre as a strong connection was expected considering the relatively short range between us and our CanSat.
As our CanSat disappeared behind a cliff (thankfully it did not plunge into the ocean) the recovery team dispatched in search of our satellite. A few minutes later a member of the recovery team returned with a CanSat, but it turned out that it wasn’t ours. This left us baffled - we had apparently tracked the wrong satellite! We'll see how this affects our results. We were informed that our CanSat would be delivered to us later on in the day. The next step is to graph and plot our results when we attain access to our satellite.
We’ll keep the blog updated as we get more information regarding our CanSat :)
May 25th: The PCB is finally finished! Getting everything to fit took a long time and multiple failed attempts, but sweet victory was finally achieved after many hours. The EAGLE software was used to create the beautiful design.