Rayce Day 5: Antennas in Alice

CalSol drove through Alice Springs early this morning through some beautiful (annoying) hills with pleasant sunlight. Impulse had very little battery charge after our sprint to the outskirts of Alice Springs last night so we were very happy that the famous Australian sun could push us through sharp elevation changes. After leaving the bustling downtown we made the one and only turn in the entire rayce: a right hand turn to remain on the Stuart Highway. When we were in Alice Springs a few weeks ago we got completely lost in all the roundabouts, so this visit was comparatively good (we only got lost once last night and it was after we were done raycing for the evening).

I was in the RV for the day, which has been a change of pace from the rest of the rayce (I have been in the lead vehicle right in front of the solar car). Our biggest challenge today was buying an antenna for the HAM radio in the RV. The scavenger hunt started at Dick Smith’s (who doesn’t carry antennas) so we were referred across two streets to JayCar. I didn’t have enough information about our radio to get a complete answer, but the representative at JayCar didn’t think they would be able to fulfill our request, and referred us to Central Comms. My dad and I walked back to the RV to grab the antenna-less radio and then wandered in circles for a while looking for the store “after the roundabout at the end of the road.” Once we got to the end of the correct road we found out that Central Comms doesn’t carry magnet mounts for vehicles, and the man there referred us to Top Gear on the Stuart Highway. Top Gear had the magnet mount, but they didn’t have the connector between the antenna magnet and the radio. Top Gear referred us to Comspec because the guy there knows his stuff. In the end, it only took five stops to replace the antenna (“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, try again”). Dick Smith’s + JayCar + Central Comms + Top Gear + Comspec = Antenna in Alice Springs.

Antenna s aside, the weather did not want to cooperate after noon. Clouds patched the sky forcing us to slow down around 2:00pm. Impulse is running on 34 out of 35 battery modules as the fix to a continuing problem (each module contains 13 battery cells). We replaced a battery module two nights ago because we thought an individual cell was damaging a module, causing it to drain more quickly than others. Since the replacement experiences the same symptoms, we are pretty sure that the individual cells are not the problem. We do not have enough time to completely diagnose the cause, so we are minimizing our losses by cutting off the battery module completely (losing 1 out of 35 modules is better than not being able to use a very large portion of every battery module). Even after cutting our losses and enduring the horrible weather, Impulse did fairly well and covered 354 km today on solar power.

The team is trailering tonight to Cadney Homestead. With any sun tomorrow we should be able to hit both of our target checkpoints on time. We are approaching the end of the challenge and with only two days left we are going to do our best!

Update: It’s raining really hard tonight! Satellite imagery of Australia is not looking good on the lower half of the Stuart Highway for the last two days of our journey.