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Volume 80, Issue 12, December 2009
- GRAVITY; GEOPHYSICS; ASTRONOMY AND ASTROPHYSICS
80(2009); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.3262506View Description Hide Description
Coupling of the solar wind to the Earth magnetosphere/ionosphere is primarily through the high latitude regions, and there are distinct advantages in making remote sensing observations of these regions with a network of ground-based observatories over other techniques. The Antarctic continent is ideally situated for such a network, especially for optical studies, because the larger offset between geographic and geomagnetic poles in the south enables optical observations at a larger range of magnetic latitudes during the winter darkness. The greatest challenge for such ground-based observations is the generation of power and heat for a sizable ground station that can accommodate an optical imaging instrument. Under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation, we have developed suitable automatic observing platforms, the Automatic Geophysical Observatories (AGOs) for a network of six autonomous stations on the Antarctic plateau. Each station housed a suite of science instruments including a dual wavelength intensified all-sky camera that records the auroral activity, an imaging riometer, fluxgate and search-coil magnetometers, and ELF/VLF and LM/MF/HF receivers. Originally these stations were powered by propane fuelled thermoelectric generators with the fuel delivered to the site each Antarctic summer. A by-product of this power generation was a large amount of useful heat, which was applied to maintain the operating temperature of the electronics in the stations. Although a reasonable degree of reliability was achieved with these stations, the high cost of the fuel air lift and some remaining technical issues necessitated the development of a different type of power unit. In the second phase of the project we have developed a power generation system using renewable energy that can operate automatically in the Antarctic winter. The most reliable power system consists of a type of wind turbine using a simple permanent magnet rotor and a new type of power control system with variable resistor shunts to regulate the power and dissipate the excess energy and at the same time provide heat for a temperature controlled environment for the instrument electronics and data system. We deployed such systems and demonstrated a high degree of reliability in several years of operation in spite of the relative unpredictability of the Antarctic environment. Sample data are shown to demonstrate that the AGOs provide key measurements, which would be impossible without the special technology developed for this type of observing platform.