Space oddity: High-flying turntable heading for atmospheric performance

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The Icarus Craft will rise into the Earth's upper atmosphere, where it will play A Glorious Dawn by Carl Sagan(Credit: Third Man Records)

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Jack White's Third Man Records is seven years old on July 30, and is celebrating with an attempt to play the first phonographic record in space. The chosen tune is a master of Carl Sagan's A Glorious Dawn, which was released by the company as a 7-inch record in its first year of operation, and will be played using a custom-built turntable designed for operation at high altitude.

Third Man Records is the brainchild of White Stripes string picker and well-known vinyl lover Jack White, and opened in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2009 – in a building that's home to a record store, label offices, a photo studio and a live venue that features direct-to-acetate recording facilities. Naturally, the company will be throwing a party or two to celebrate its birthday, with live music and commemorative exclusives for guests, but it's the Icarus project that's likely to steal the show.

The special edition, gold-plated 12-inch master of A Glorious Dawn, where commentary from Sagan's epic Cosmos series is set to music, is the 3 millionth record that the label has pressed. Third Man's battle plan is simple... "to spin a record further from Earth than a record has ever been spun." It will be carried into the upper atmosphere aboard a "space-proof" turntable called the Icarus Craft that's suspended from a high altitude balloon.

At this stage, the company hasn't released any build or technical details on the high flying disc spinner, but we expect information to become available over the next few days and will update this post when we know more. A video of the launch will be shown at the company's Nashville and Detroit locations, as well as online.

Update August 11: The maker of the Icarus Craft, Kevin Carrico, has now supplied us with some details about the craft, which was successful in playing A Glorious Dawn at over 94,000 ft peak altitude.

Airframe
22.5 inches on all three sides, 7 inches tall – constructed from MicroRAX 10 mm aluminum extrusions and fasteners. A triangle shape was chosen for rigidity since it is far less susceptible to twisting/torqueing than a square/rectangular shape. This also allowed for a smaller airframe and reduced overall weight.

Turntable Platter
12-inch diameter, 0.25-in thick engraved copper disc ... for several reasons

  • support of vinyl record with extra down-force applied to tone arm
  • passive cooling of the vinyl disc via thermal paste between the disc and platter, acting as a heat-sink
  • craft stability acting as a gyroscope
  • playback stability acting as a flywheel

Drivetrain
ServoCity components: Kevlar-reinforced timing belt and sprockets with added tensioner in order to adapt to expansion and contraction due to vast changes in temperature (from +70-80° F to -60° F). Connected to 45 rpm high-torque motor, regulated to 33.33 rpm via PWM and PID control.

Flight Computers
Three Arduino UNO microcontrollers with separate functions –

  • Flight Control Module (FCM): play and reset tone arm repeatedly, constantly check for harmful turbulence, raise and lock tone arm if in turbulence, time-out and reset tone arm if it tone arm is stuck
  • Motor Control Module (MCM): monitor tone wheel on platter shaft and calculate (10 times per revolution) any motor speed changes while everything was expanding and contracting, apply the changes if needed
  • Lighting/Timer Module (LTM): control/adapt onboard lighting in case of pre-dawn launch or in shade, run the mission timer for diagnostic reasons

Tonearm/Phono Cartridge/Stylus
Custom-made tone arm for durability, RF shielding and craft vibration dampening. Cartridge same as used in Rockola juke box, a Sonotone 65t and matching stylus Pfanstiehl 273-SS73.

Power Bus
Four SAFT LS33600 3.6vdc Lithium Thionyl Chloride batteries producing a total of 14.4 vdc. Rated to -71° F and 17,000 mAh.

Weight
11 pounds as built, 25 lb with cameras, camera batteries and Insulation/Landing System (ILS) attached for flight.

Insulation/Landing System
1-inch rigid polyisocyanurate (PIR) foam, built-in one-use crumple zones for initial energy absorption, bumpers for additional/continuing dissipation, encased in a sacrificial frame to absorb shearing forces. Wrapped in gold mylar for additional thermal/RF shielding.

Onboard Sensors/Lighting/Digital Displays
SparkFun photogates, accelerometers, LED lighting and serial 7-segment displays.

You can see a short video of the ascent and landing below.

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