Saturday, January 14, 2012

On Auto Pilot?

It seems like I am...but no...

Yes, I'm grinding on the same trails every night, but I'm patching different obstacles's several days between appearances for most of them...

We opened a new trail...barely...oops, I made a pun...

I'm on a first name basis with more rock groups than Bill Graham...

Sunday's promised "storm" will be all blow, no snow...any accumulation will be measured in mm not inches...

Gotta get a nap in before the Niner's game

Phobos/Grunt Watch: The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

Spaceflight 101 has the latest numbers at their Phobos/Grunt Reentry Page. The predictions are all for Sunday January 15th now.

@PhG_Reentry tweets: "trajectory" flattening (lower drag than expected) potentially delaying re-entry

Phobos/Grunt featured on Comedy Central's Colbert Report Wednesday. Watch the whole episode here.

Stay tuned!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Phobos/Grunt Watch The Waiting Begins

Three days and counting. This is the beginning of the end...and the beginning of the time when the waiting gets harder and harder...think "The Watched Pot..."

Spaceflight 101 launched their "Phobos Grunt Entry Blog" Their maiden voyage entry says: "Satellite Trackers and Amateur Observers might be essential in pin-pointing Phobos-Grunt's Re-Entry Time and Location"...

That's us people!

Spaceflight 101's blog links their own tutorial: "Observe Phobos-Grunt" It's good advice on how to see Phobos/Grunt in orbit, and if the stars witness it's fiery reentry.

After several tries in the past month, most featuring problematic "seeing" due to big moons or cloud cover, I finally caught a Phobos/Grunt pass overhead. Even at Mag 1.3 near morning twilight, the spacecraft was easy to find as it passed overhead.

According to Heavens-Above, I get a shot at one of the predicted final orbits in the evenings of January 14, 16, and 17 Given the latest predictions, that's lookin' like one shot...the 14th!

Heavens-Above Note:
While composing this blog, I found a new quirk on Heavens-Above. Be sure to click on Type of passes to include: ALL when you're searching a satellite. I did and found a visible pass just two hours from now! It wasn't listed in the Visible results...there that's my "Learn Something Every Day" requirement for today!

European Space Agency Coordinates International Satellite Reentry Campaign for Phobos/Grunt

Stay tuned, and Good Luck Phobos/Grunt Watchers!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Keepin' On Keeping On...

Whatta  surprise! Snowmaking last night fired up three hours earlier than Tuesday much for the accuracy of the remote sensors... All that snowmaking was blowing snow on trails we want to re-open, or open for the first time this season, so I felt like I was s*!^#ing in tall cotton!

I was grinding around with my window open...I did all the ramps that swing shift didn't get to, buried some more trouble spots on the bunny hills, and finally started making my long passes about the time my shirtsleeve thermometer told me that it was warming up...damn inversion was creeping up the slopes to make more mischief...

I hailed Jeweler on the 2-way: "Is it getting warmer?" I queried. "It is" Jeweler replied. Jeweler said they were shutting to not make rain...I made a pass to the top of the mountain...for snowmobile pilots from Vehicle Maintenance who needed to retrieve a downed snowmobile in the AM.

I made another long pass from the Work Orders...and ran out of fuel. WTF?

I fueled up Wednesday morning after my shift, and nobody else ran the cat before I got in it at the beginning of my shift. No Idiot Lights, No alarms, No Go...No restart either. I hailed Jeweler on the 2-way answer. I phoned him and asked "Are you still here? "Nope, I'm on the road" I pleaded my case...Jeweler said he'd come get me after he dropped off on of his crew. He was all of two miles from My Mountain, and would be less than three miles away when he dropped of his guy. He said he'd give me a ring when he was close.

The symptoms were those of a fuel delivery failure. I grabbed my flashlight and started looking for a broken wire or disconnected wiring harness. I haven't learned where the fuel shutoff relay or solenoid live on the's never been an issue like it was with the BR275s. I didn't find anything. My phone rang...

Jeweler was almost back to the shop and asked what I wanted to be rescued in. I asked him to bring a snowcat. Ten minutes later Jeweler phoned again: "I fired up the older Bison, and it made horrible rod knock noises...listen...I couldn't hear anything over the phone. I said: "Why don't you bring Driller's's only been parked for an hour and a half"..."OK" Jeweler replied.

Driller's CenterX Bison picked me up a half hour later..."You jump in the other seat and give me a driving lesson on our way down the hill" I suggested to Jeweler. I haven't run a CenterX yet...Jeweler gave me the lowdown, and the machine was leaving corduroy like butter...or buttah, I should say.

Nice machine in many ways, but all the important stuff is behind the operator...that would be the 2-way, the window latches, and the iPod dock. I finished the shift, fueled up, filed my report and talked to the mechanics about my tractor...all before punching out at 0830.

Looking forward to getting back in my own BR350 tonight, though.

Phobos/Grunt Watch: From the Ground Up

I must admit, I'm a Johnny Come Lately to Phobos/Grunt. It was just the next in line of a monthly train of reentering spacecraft that have captured my attention this Fall...well, not exactly. Phobos/Grunt cut the line if you will.

The first I heard of the Russian Mars Probe was from Spaceflight Now: "Russian Mars Mission halted by glitch in low Earth orbit" This was about two months ago...

In the two months since, the drama developed as Russian controllers tried in vain to make contact with P/G. "Russia trying to salvage Phobos-Grunt mission"

Spaceflight Now kept on the story:
"Phobos-Grunt Mars probe remains silent in Earth orbit"

"December deadline for stranded Russian Mars probe"

"It's alive! Russia's Phobos-Grunt phones home"

"Russia scrambles to diagnose glitch on Phobos-Grunt"

"Latest attempts to contact Phobos-Grunt yield 'no joy'"

"Orbit-raising commands fail to budge Phobos-Grunt probe"

"ESA shutting down Phobos-Grunt listening campaign"

"Russians now preparing for re-entry of failed Mars probe"

Latest Reentry Data from Spaceflight 101:
Four or five days to go.

Use the links I posted in "Phobos/Grunt Watch Begins" to monitor events in real-time.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

White Noise

I messed with my bedtime over my weekend...I slept overnight instead of keeping my graveyard ways. I had a pretty good "Monday" night on My Mountain last night...the snowmakers were able to fire up by 10PM. I had a little "eye trouble", and shut them for my 30 minute lunch, before I paid the price today and fell asleep before noon...

So now I'm up at 5:30, four hours ahead of schedule...there's a new noise afoot, too.

I tuned into a couple of 6 O'clock News' weather reports...the weatherdudes were a little more animated than they have been for weeks...they're talking precipitation in the 7-Day Forecast.

I looked at Reno's AFD, snowmaking looks secure for another few nights...the rain that's got the weather guessers abuzz looks to be more wish than wet spell from where I stand tonight.

Reno's NWS Office is concerned about possible Fire Weather coming up:

These are the forecasts that try men's souls...
What about the huge blocking high that's been keeping Mother Nature's Finest at bay?

Well, the Arctic Oscillation, which has been driving the big Eastern Pacific High, is trending colder...just what we want.

Local Weather Model Wrangler, TahoeWeatherDiscussion is Cautiously Optimistic that the ducks will get in line, and that Winter will arrive finally!

I looked at the Remote Sensors...our high was 10°F lower than yesterday...that won't be white noise on my Mountain'll be the roar of Ratnik Snow Guns and the whir of fans standing in for Mother Nature...we can hang in until Pattern Change comes.

Phobos/Grunt Watch Begins

Phobos/Grunt the failed Russian Mars Probe will reenter Earth's atmosphere sometime in the next seven days. Space Debris Experts won't have a good bead on the when and where until the last twelve hours of it's orbital life. News will be maddeningly slow to trickle in for the next six days or so...and Russia's holdover secrecy makes following Phobos/Grunt news even more cryptic.

When the orbital decay signals the satellite watchers that the end is but a few orbits away, events will speed up, and then news will seem even slower.

The latest predictions now say Phobos/Grunt will reenter January 15th at 1400 UTC +/- 18 hours.

Here's the online resources I deploy during reentry events. These served me well during both UARS and ROSAT reentries.

Twitter has evolved from a chronicle of Celebrity Banality, to the best Breaking News Service out there...provided you follow the accounts of parties close to the story, and waive off the Kutchers, Kardashians and Moores.

During the August 2011 Virginia Earthquake, the tweets about the temblor arrived in Washington DC before the ground wave that cracked the Washington Monument! The Epicenter was roughly 80 miles from DC!

My Phobos/Grunt Twitter Must Follow List:
@PhG_Reentry are the same people who brought us @UARS_Reentry and @ROSAT_Reentry Flat out, the MVP of Reentry Tweeters, and essential when reentry time nears.
@RussianSpaceWeb Russian Spaceflight News from Russia (in English)
@SPACEFLIGHT101 is the most prolific "Background Story" Twitter account to follow.
@universetoday is the comprehensive spaceflight, astronomy, and space history Twitter feed.
@SpaceflightNow nuts and bolts of all things spaceflight

Twitter will keep you up to date on Phobos/Grunt Reentry events, and many links to valuable resources appear in tweets.
Searching #PhobosGrunt will give you all tweets with the #PhobosGrunt hashtag, and it should be fast and furious as the end nears.

Real Time Tracking Websites:
Real Time Satellite Tracking shows Phobos/Grunt's location on Google Maps. The closer to reentry, the more compelling this gets, especially as tweets about live observations follow the satellite's orbital progress!

Heavens-Above will give you observation times to see Phobos/Grunt (or any other satellite you choose) pass over your location. It only takes a minute to configure your location and bookmark this site, and you'll get countless hours of skywatching fun in return.

Heavens-Above not only covers satellite passes, but Sun, Moon, and planet data, meteor showers and comets are displayed for your location. I have bookmarked three locations...Home, Work, and the Ancestral Digs. I've got the heavens covered!

Spaceflight 101 has a good reentry page.

The Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies maintains a Reentry News Page.

I just found with all the numbers...let's give it a look...

We'll look at the Phobos/Grunt story from the beginning, and link the latest Reentry News...

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Back At It

My all too short weekend is over...I'm back on the hill at midnight. Snowmaking over my two nights off has been a frustrating business to say the least. With temps up on the Crest hanging around 50°F as I write (1:20PM), I'm encouraged by the Reno AFD that says the temps will come tonight, once the high clouds move out.

Afternoon highs will stay high, or even warm a degree or two for the next few days, but overnight lows favor will snowmaking. So, it will be tough sledding for another week. The Natives are getting restless, and rumors are flying about resorts closing, or running out of snowmaking water.

So, me and my bunker mentality are soldiering on until Winter finally begins. Signs are that that may begin in the 10 days- two weeks time frame...

There's beginning to be some buzz in the local weathergeek community about pattern change on the horizon! Sober observers are starting to see some hopeful signs in the long distance model runs, and the Arctic Oscillation is heading negative. In Europe, Winter roared in after it started off like a lamb. We're due of course, but 10-14 days is a double eternity in a La Niña year!

Tahoe Weather Discussion is leading the view to our weather horizon.

@powdiction tweeted: "Its still way out but best change I've seen in the Pacific in a long time. Possible wave train next week/weekend"

KTVU2's Meteorologist, Bill Martin lit up Facebook with a GFS model photo:

GFS for January 20th
I'm buoyed for sure, but I'm going against type...I'll consider the glass to be half-empty for at least another week (but getting to sleep every afternoon may end up being like Christmas Eve for an eight year old!)

Many folks forget that the seven weeks of fair weather in December and January last season, were followed by 500 inches of snowfall. The Christmas Holidays are water under the bridge, but winter may turn miraculous in due time...

Monday, January 9, 2012

Quick Phobos/Grunt Update 7

The next seven days could be Phobos/Grunt's last in orbit. We can assume that the Russian Space Agency are still attempting to communicate with the stranded Mars Probe. Hints from industry sources say this work is ongoing.

Artist's rendition of Phobos-Grunt's reentry, predicted for January 15, 2012 

Space Safety Magazine sizes things up.

CorduroyPlanet's Phobos/GrunyWatch reports for duty Wednesday January 11th, 2012

Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

It's On!

I fell asleep before kickoff of the early NFL Wild Card Game, only to wake up in time to catch the final four minutes of futility as the Cincinnati Bengals lost to the Houston Texans. Didn't they used to be the Houston Oilers? 

I may not get back to sleep...the evening game between the New Orleans Saints and the Detroit Lions is a barn burner! It's On! All offense, all the time.

Down on the Central Coast, the Mavericks Surf Contest is open for business. The window is open...when the weatherman says the waves will be big enough, and the winds calm enough, the word will go out to the 24 contestants, and 17 alternates who then have 24 hours to get to the break near Half Moon Bay, CA. The break has been contest-worthy this week, 50+ feet! I'ts On!

Snowmaking was ON! last night, and will be again tonight. Temps fell enough Friday night to fire the fans and guns about 8PM. When I left Saturday morning about 0930, the snow was still pumping.

It's amazing how much good was done in 12 hours of snowmaking. Temps were just below marginal, but the snowmakers rocked it. Swing shift was nothing if not aggressive, yeah, they did make a couple of puddles...nothing we couldn't recover from. Many of my trouble spots received the cure, and I made a request list for Saturday night.

Before I started  this post, I checked the temps...the afternoon high was way lower than Friday...12°F lower! It looks like we're just a hair warmer tonight, but temps are damn close to last night.

It's my Friday. Another solid block of snowmaking should make for a carefree weekend. Lookin' forward to it.