Thursday, 9 January 2003
Today we worked away merrily inside the AASTINO, warm and comfortable. There were a few tasks to do outside, which mainly Tony did. These included sealing up all the gaps between the panels with Silastic, and installing the air conditioning system.
Once the AASTINO is running under its own power, the Stirling engine will generate some 4 kW of heat. This heat is dumped into the AASTINO by two big glycol heat exchangers. Even in the middle of winter, when temperatures can plunge below -80 C, we expect that this amount of heat will make the AASTINO too hot inside. To control the room temperature, we therefore have an "air conditioner". This is very simple - two fans blow air out of the AASTINO, causing cold, outside air to be drawn in. All we have to do is to switch the fans on and off appropriately, and the AASTINO will be at a constant, comfortable temperature throughout the year.
Jon worked steadily and carefully preparing the Stirling engines. We need to get the fuel, cooling and electrical systems installed before we can switch them on. A mistake at this stage could cost us a year of data, so it is best to take things slowly. I spent the day singing "Bob the Builder", while putting up coat hooks, assembling furniture and unpacking more of the equipment.
This afternoon we used a sled towed behind a Skidoo to shift some of the heavy items across to the AASTINO, notably the 200 Ahr batteries. It turns out that reversing a Skidoo with a sled behind it is a lot like reversing a car with a trailer, only impossible.
Carlo also put in an appearance with the Kaesbohrer, towing away most of our empty crates and packing material. He also kindly levelled the snow around the AASTINO, making it much more photogenic. We are now proudly flying the UNSW flag above the AASTINO. It does look very splendid. On the other hand, it did spend almost all of today hanging limply from the pole, with the just the occasional half-hearted flutter. If the wind doesn't pick up soon, we'll have to add a piece of wire to stiffen the flag, just like they did for the Apollo moon landings. Tony and Jon launched a balloon this evening, and found that the wind was just 0.7 metres sec (about 2.5 km/hr) for the first 300 metres.
The Kaesbohrer added a further 50 cm to Robert Hill, which is now a significant feature of the landscape.
Another major milestone today was to send our first message via Iridium from the AASTINO. It is crucial that this link works, because Iridium will be our only means of communicating with our instruments once the station closes in about four weeks. We have our Iridium antenna inside the AASTINO, and rely on the fact that fibreglass is reasonably transparent to microwaves. Fortunately, it all worked extremely well - we received a good strong signal from the satellites and were able to send a brief message back to our colleagues at UNSW. They are probably still trying to figure the meaning of "Doigts dans le nez". (Literally "Fingers up the nose"; meaning "sweet as", or "A piece of cake".)
Tomorrow we hope to service ICECAM and COBBER, two instruments that are independent of the AASTINO and spent all of last year here operating from batteries. Before doing so, however, I wanted to check that I had properly adjusted to the altitude and would therefore be less likely to make stupid mistakes. I devised a simple practical test - I would assemble an Ikea chest of drawers from the instructions and see if I could do it without error. Unfortunately I failed, belting a couple of big dowel things in where the little dowel things should have gone. The damage will not be noticed by a casual visitor, so I think I'll take a crack at ICECAM and COBBER anyway. They don't have any dowels.
The AASTINO is now fully furnished, and looks remarkably bright and colourful. The Feng Shui is just about perfect. Entering through the main door, the visitor is immediately confronted with a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher and a fire blanket. Hopefully they'll remember where they are if things go wrong later in their visit. To the left is a gracefully curving work bench, covered in a bright blue antistatic mat. The blue is accentuated by three violently purple high-back stools. Above the bench are two clocks - one showing Dome C time and the other Sydney time. Below the bench are two Ikea chests of drawers (one of which has a couple of ever-so-slightly-split dowel holes), a bright yellow workshop vacuum cleaner, and a plastic bin whose colour would normally be described as blue were it not so dramatically outdone by the anti-static mat. Turning to the right, the eyes flick past a fire-engine red tool chest, a set of yellow electronics drawers and the inappropriately bland electronics rack to take in the full expanse of the AASTINO. This reveals the two 1200 litre aluminium fuel tanks, with a narrow corridor between them leading to the "power plant" end of the
The far end of the AASTINO is much more muted - except perhaps for the festooned bright orange 200-Amp power cables. The two Stirling engines, each about the size of a bar fridge, have gleaming white covers atop cheerful blue bases. Everything else is pure functionality - electrical switchgear, digital meters, stainless-steel braided coolant pipes. Only a second red fire extinguisher and the four surprisingly colourful 200 Ahr batteries assault the senses. A second door is at the far end, mainly to act as an emergency exit.
The only colour not represented to excess within the AASTINO is green. We feel we used enough of that on the outside.
It's a real shame our digital camera is no longer working, and readers cannot judge for themselves just how jolly the AASTINO interior design has worked out. However, Gianpiero has kindly offered to take some photos, which we'll email back shortly.