Saturday, November 18, 2017

Planetary Frontiers Workshop - Desert Fireball Network

I had the chance to attend (most) of the 2017 Planetary Frontiers Workshop here at Macquarie University. The aim of the workshop is to bring together folks from across Australia who are working in planetary science. Traditionally this has been a lot of solar system folks although this is being expanded out to exoplanets. Specifically, the focus for the coming years will probably turn to the formation of terrestrial planets and meteors/comets in general.

As such, the workshop had a lot of geologists. Lots of talk about chondrites and other such things I know nothing about (although there were cool titles, such as "Giant convecting mudballs of the early solar system"). Thankfully it was split up so that most of the hardcore geology was on Thursday while the astronomy side of things mostly took place on Friday.

One thing of particular interest on Thursday night was the folks from the Desert Fireball Network. I've heard about their work before and have been interested as they have units spread out all over Australia in the same fashion as PANOPTES hopes to accomplish. Check out their map, which is pretty impressive. Talking to them they said most installations are just on farm land and that the farmers have been very supportive of hosting the units.

Also interesting for PANOPTES is that most of these units run on solar installations and also feature built-in Telstra wireless connections, for which the organization has a monolithic (i.e. 40+ sim cards) sort of "family plan". They have a model whereby the computed coordinates of the fireball are delivered wirelessly on a daily basis, which is minimal data, while the raw data is stored on 3 separate 10 TB hard drives that are offloaded manually whenever the unit undergoes maintenance (every 6 months to 1 year depending on ease of access).

Overview of the DFNEXT box. Nice and neat.
The design of their box is also pretty impressive and incorporates a few design elements that PANOPTES could benefit from. In particular, they have a tiny 5V fan that is hooked up to a 3D printed plastic that directs air over the front of the lens in order to deal with condensation issues. They've also got a custom printed PCB board that they use for power relays that seems well thought out. A few details and pics here although unfortunately nothing highly technical.

There box is also a piece of metal aluminium that they send off to be cut by a private company but which only costs ~$15. They provide the CAD files and say it is much more efficient than having users machine their own boxes.

All in all the DFN is a slightly different model from PANOPTES. They build the units in house (4 or 5 PhD students, full-time staff member, etc) and then send the product off to the users, who host and maintain the box. Still, could be a valuable partnership from which we could learn a lot.

The rest of the workshop was also fruitful and good for learning about the community here in Australia.

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