Thursday, 9 April 2015

Trigs South African Style

It wouldn't be a proper away-from-home unless there was some trig hunting.  And on my recent trip to South Africa my fellow surveyors humoured me with not one but two trigs.

We had thought they'd be really hard to find and access and were delighted to find what I call a 'drive by trig' near Pofadder, Northern Cape.  Now I'm not adverse to a walk to find my prey, but it was around 35 deg celsius and none of us fancied traipsing around in that heat for long - especially not just to humour Ruth.

So this one was a mere 500m across a 'field'.  "Look out for for the land owner and his gun," Martin helpfully let drop as we entered the enclosure.

"Oh, and snakes," he thoughtfully added.
15 03 27_3 trig hunting (13)
Anyway, what a reward we had.  My first ever trig with not only a top mark but barbed wire!
15 03 27_3 trig hunting (1)
And the top mark did indeed come out.
15 03 27_3 trig hunting (5)
But Ken and I were disappointed to find no spider on top nor flush bracket on one of the sides.  We are so spoilt by the British Ordnance Survey.
15 03 27_3 trig hunting (4)
Ken and I: one for the trigs-we-have-bagged album.
15 03 27_3 trig hunting (8)
After this we spotted trigs absolutely everywhere.  Including just around the corner from where we were staying.  So the next day we just had to swing by to say 'hi'.
15 03 28 Trig School (1)
This trig was called School 80.   [See?  No spider].
15 03 28_3 Trig (1)
And without barbed wire this made it eminently huggable.
15 03 28 Trig School (2)
I could have seen more but I knew my trig hunting fancies were competing with other tourist attractions including cold beer.  I know defeat when I see it.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Solar Farming South Africa

On my recent trip to South Africa a few of us chartered surveyors went on safari.  However our game was geomatics related and our chat full of geo speak.  Our host, Martin de Beer from MnSGroup, flew us to Augrabies and en route we flew over the Khi Solar One farm which his team had surveyed.  The tower is over 200m tall and the focal point of the surrounding 4000 mirrors (heliostats to be precise - although I really do think it just means "mobile mirror").  A useful factsheet is here.

The heart shape is nothing to do with romance (have you ever met chartered surveyors?!) but a precise pattern for maximising the sun onto the tower.  
15 03 26 Airtime - Jburg to Dundi Lodge (23)
And it was truly awesome to take a spin around it.
The following day we drove to another solar farm MnS Group have surveyed, KaXu Solar One Farm.  In fact it was officially opened just a couple of weeks before we visited.  

It is incredibly hard to grasp the enormous scale of this 100MW plant.  
15 03 27_1 Solar Array Farm (1)
It was nearly possible to watch the solar panels (each approx 8x150m) rotate as they followed the sun.
15 03 27_1 Solar Array Farm (32)
More technical details on KaXu are here.

Adjacent to KaXu Solar One is the new site, Xina Solar One, on which a similar sized farm is being constructed.  The Environmental and Social plan  by the African Development Bank is an interesting read.  MnS Group have a couple of survey teams here and one of their chief surveyors kindly drove us around this enormous site explaining how the construction is developing.

The original ground cover is desert shrub land which is cleared, and then smoothed using these bulldozers.
15 03 27_1 Solar Array Farm (20)
Each parabolic panel sits on two precisely engineered struts which are set using this metal frame.
15 03 27_1 Solar Array Farm (23)
Drilling the hole.
15 03 27_1 Solar Array Farm (13)
These moulds fit the top of each concrete post.  The metal rod is inserted, the concrete poured in and the moulds used to shape the top.
15 03 27_1 Solar Array Farm (18)
15 03 27_1 Solar Array Farm (14)
A series of dual-struts being fixed.
15 03 27_1 Solar Array Farm (22)
Hundreds and hundreds of them.
15 03 27_1 Solar Array Farm (10)
Ooh, look, surveyor.
15 03 27_1 Solar Array Farm (26)
Workers on top of the new processing plant.  This is the hub of the plant controlling the collection and generation of the power.
15 03 27_1 Solar Array Farm (28)
We loved this door - I want one for work!
15 03 27_1 Solar Array Farm surveying door
Accommodation for some of the project team.  A pool and astroturf in the desert.  Lush.
15 03 27_1 Solar Array Farm (34)
Team geomatics.
15 03 27_1 Solar Array Farm (17)
The following day we flew up the Orange River for sunset.  Like you do.  We were considering heading back when Martin suddenly said "oh wait, I recognise the road...KaXu is just over the hill..." and before we knew it we were flying over farm.  
15 03 28_5 Over Orange River (5)
So we had an aerial tour of the solar farm.  How absolutely amazing. 
15 03 28_5 Over Orange River (12)
Now that's what I call a decent safari.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory

I had the supreme privilege the other Saturday of having a personal tour of the Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory near Johannesburg.
15 03 21 Hart RAO (7)
15 03 21 Hart RAO (15)
Hart RAO was built by NASA in 1961 with a 26m dish antenna to track space probes. Over time is has become a radio astronomy observatory conducting space geodesy as well as astronomical work.

Prof Ludwig Combrink showed us around.  What a mine of information!  And what a cool bit of astro bling to have in one's office.
15 03 21 Hart RAO (6)
We started in the control room.  SLR on the left behind us, VLBI on the right (or so I recall).
15 03 21 Hart RAO (3)
He then showed us his two atomic clocks.  Accurate to something greater than my mind could cope with (loses less than a second every 300 years?).  To be honest he could be showing me his beer fridges and I'd be just as impressed ;-)
15 03 21 Hart RAO (5)
Ludwig is an incredibly smart cookie.  He wrote the algorithms for lunar laser ranging and was first to spot an anomally in a recent satellite gravity mission.  Blows your brains.
15 03 21 Hart RAO (11)
He wrote all this software.
15 03 21 Hart RAO (13)
There are only a few observatories that measure to the moon.  By the time the 75cm diameter pulse has been flung out from their lasers it has a footprint 6.5km wide on the surface of the moon.  Still then, trying to aim that beam correctly is like trying to shoot a coin from 3km distant.  And then you don't only have to hit the moon (aiming for the reflectors left by the Apollo mission) but catch the return beam.

Dinner party fact Number 1 - the moon is racing away from us at 3.8cm per annum.  That's quite fast in the solar way of things.

This is the GPS station for Hart.
15 03 21 Hart RAO (8)
I queried why it was outside the perimeter fence.  "Stops the kids fiddling with it," was Ludwig's response.  Hart RAO has educational visits and there is little that mischievous fingers can interfere with on a 26m dome, but a small GPS antenna is just fun to play with isn't it?

Maritime Karlskrona

I have just had the privilege of spending nearly a week in the wonderful naval town of Karlskrona in Sweden.
15 03 19 Around Karslkrona (3)
In 1679 King Karl XI of Sweden declared that Karlskrona should become the home for the Swedish Fleet. Its first location, in Stockholm, was proving a disadvantage in their war against Denmark. The Danish Fleet, based in Copenhagen, unfroze before they did and the Swedish ships were unable to defend themselves whilst the Danish took a pop at western Sweden.

I was in a week long maritime-focused meeting based in the Naval Museum.
15 03 16 Maritime Museum (7)
What a wonderful venue for a heap of nautically passionate people!

At lunchtimes/coffee breaks, if we had time, we were able to explore.
15 03 18 Maritime Museum (2)
15 03 16 Maritime Museum (16)
An old mine hunter.
15 03 16 Maritime Museum (1)
15 03 16 Maritime Museum (6)
Karlskrona is on one of many islands and the views were wonderful. Especially as we had sun for most of our trip.
15 03 16 Maritime Museum (11)
15 03 16 Maritime Museum (8)
I found a couple of lighthouses.
15 03 16 Maritime Museum (10)
15 03 19 Around Karslkrona (1)
And even a messpunkt! (or rather a Mat Punkt - the Swedish equivalent).
15 03 16 Mat punkt
I didn’t have much time to mooch around the museum so knew exactly which exhibit to focus on.
15 03 17 Maritime Museum (4)
I made a bee-line for the navigation area.

Lots of lovely sextants, old charts and compasses.
15 03 17 Maritime Museum (2).
15 03 17 Maritime Museum (5)
We enjoyed using the astrolabe to measure our latitude.

I was hopelessly in error (the computer retorted “your crew want to know what you are up to…”).
15 03 17 Maritime Museum RFA
A naval officer then had a go – to show me how to do it properly – and he was equally off the mark.
15 03 17 Maritime Museum (7)
I suspect that when I dropped the astrolabe first off I put it back together incorrectly. Doh.

Near the naval museum is a small workshop for boat making apprentices.  We were welcomed in and indulged our senses - both visual and aromatic – gazing at these beautiful boats and breathing in lungful’s of oak scent.
15 03 19 Boat school (2)
Ooh, a chart.
15 03 19 Boat school (5)
This guy was pretty devoted to his craft. He estimated that with working 4 days a week on this boat he’d finish it around the summer of 2017. Now that’s dedication.
15 03 19 Boat school (4)
One evening we visited the Officer’s Club.  It has an amazing library with oodles of historical documents.
15 03 17 Officers Club (3)
15 03 17 Officers Club (8)
It was all somewhat casually handled: I know in our archive we touch these precious documents gloved. In this library we were allowed pick up what we fancied. Although most of us, recognising the precious nature of these items, didn’t.
15 03 17 Officers Club (9)
We also managed to fit in a visit to the submarine museum there.

This was the first submarine the Swedish Navy had which came into service in 1904. It could only dive for a few hours and there was no messing nor sleeping arrangements onboard. Cooking was done on the top deck whilst surfaced (obviously) and sailors slept where they could in the cold, single hulled vessel.
15 03 18 Submarine museum (4)
This submarine., HMS Neptun, was retired around a decade ago so a lot more modern.
15 03 18 Submarine museum (3)
15 03 18 Submarine museum (12)
A tincy tiny chart table.
15 03 18 Submarine museum (13)
On our last day it clouded over. No great shakes except it happened to be the day of the partial solar eclipse.
15 03 20 Eclipse too
I put my shades on but I hardly needed to.
15 03 20 Eclipse (1)