2011-2012 WINDSLED Acciona Antarctica Expedition

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In year 2011 the WindSled participates in a scientific expedition to test its immense possibilities of becoming an alternative vehicle for the polar regions, coinciding with the centenary of the arrival at the geographic South Pole of the first expeditions: the Norwegian Roald Amundsen, who successfully completed the adventure, and the British Robert Scott, who died with his group in the attempt. This time, the goal is to travel 3500 km (2174.79 mi) non-stop, without outside provisioning and “0” emissions. To prove itself to science, in this journey, the WindSled has collaborated in three scientific projects.

The team is made up this time of Ramón Larramendi, Ignacio Oficialdegui, Javier Selva and Juan Pablo Albar. Departure was on December 1, 2011 to South Africa. On the 6th of that same month, they fly to Antarctica, Novo. On the 8th they are already in the Antarctic Plateau with the entire team. Here, they begin assembling the sled, which requires making 750 knots to assemble the parts at 32 degrees below zero. They are now 70 km (43.49 mi) from the Norwegian base, Troll, and at almost 3000 meters (9842.51     ft) in altitude. The first few days the expeditionary must wait for the weather to improve, while taking advantage to mount the sled and check cameras and satellite positioning.

 

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On this occasion, the design has incorporated a fifth rail and has been divided into two sleds: one module as locomotive pulled by kites, and the one behind it with a tent specially designed for the occasion, which is never dismantled during the route. The materials utilized are Teflon plates of high molecular weight and crossbars of different materials (fiberglass, aluminum, various wood types such as iroko, ash, meranti…) to evaluate which respond better to field testing. The WindSled also increases the number of kites to twenty; which are LWP9 with a different manufacturing system to be also appraised during the expedition.

DEPARTURE

Winds of over 100 km / (62.13 mi) h do not favor the situation during the early days of the expedition. The WindSled progresses very slowly on the plateau, we must be patient…

Finally, on the 18th of December the situation improves and we can commence using kites of 10 and 30 square meters (107.63 and 322.91 sq ft). On the 20th, 140 km (86.99 mi) in a day were traveled doing 10-hour shifts, with four breaks to sleep and eat. They are two people shifts that help obtain twenty effective hours each day.

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But the weather in Antarctica is highly variable and storms often occur, forcing to stop and change the kites continuously according to their sizes. 24th of December, Christmas Eve, and the expeditionary are 850 km (528.16 mi) from their starting point, 250 km (155.34 mi) traveled in one non stop sitting.

DIFFICULTIES on the TERRAIN

The good rhythm is interrupted on the 28th because the expeditionary enter a sastruguis area, which causes some problems in the sleigh. In such an area with a small kite sail of 8 square meters (86.11 sq ft) and less than a kilo of weight, the sleigh is capable of carrying 1250 kilos (2755 lb). The average in terms of distance, so far, is 110 km (68.35 mi) per day, so, by the 30th, the expedition is hardly 300 km (186.41 mi) away from the geographic South Pole.

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Fatigue stalks the four expeditionary. Due to the large waves of ice that occur in the field, they can not rest appropriately when it is their turn to repose.

Finally, on January the 1st 2012, after 2200 km (1367.01 mi) of cruising in 19 days and 12 hours, the expedition reaches the geographic South Pole. Latitude: 90 ° – Longitude: 0 °. The southern most place on earth; where all time zones meet. The Acciona Antarctica team is the first to reach this location on a vehicle moved by the wind. To the satisfaction of having reached this goal, the expeditionary add a final marathon day of 310 km (192.62 mi) non-stop. When they arrive to the South Pole they are sailing with an 82 sq m (882.64 sq ft) kite at 20 km (12.42 mi) / h.

ARRIVAL to the geographic SOUTH POLE

Here is the Amundsen-Scott U.S. base, a facility that costs $ 173 million in which fifty people spend the winter. The scientists at the base come by to get to know the WindSled, including the base director of the next austral winter, and were quite surprised with the capabilities of the WindSled project.

Amundsen-Scott Base, geographic South Pole

Amundsen-Scott Base, geographic South Pole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the 4th of January, the voyage of the remaining 1300 km (807.78 mi) is resumed. The expeditionary will encounter steep areas with downhill slopes and numerous crevasses. The sastruguis reappear, but the WindSled, thanks to its flexible and adaptable design, manages to overcome them without any major complications. The wind is the most problematic element as it continually varies in direction and intensity in the coming days.

LAST MILES

From the 13th onwards, the route traverses an area with a sharp altitude drop below 2000 meters (6561 ft) and the temperature rises to minus 17 º C. They begin to observe the first mountains. Still having 600 km (372 mi) to go, progress is slow due to the impressive sastrugui that seem to break the sled. Surprisingly, going at low speeds, the vehicle resists the sastrugui “attacks”.

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As the days pass, the routine settles: nine hours of crossing for each two people team, a one hour shift change and five hours to repair the sled, have dinner and breakfast, and to melt snow.

Finally, at 11:30 am on January 16th, 2012, after a final non-stop round of 300 km (186.41 mi) in 36 hours, the expeditionary arrive to their destination, near Patriot Hills, where they will be picked up in a few hours by the aircraft that will take them firstly to the Union Glacier Base and secondly to Chilean territory. In this last stretch, the favorable wind allowed them to progress more than 170 km (105.63 mi) on the 15th and on the 16th, in an eight-hour sprint, added another 125 km (77.67 mi) to reach the vicinity of Patriot Hills.

ARRIVAL

In total, the expeditionary have covered 3500 km (2174.79 mi) in 34 days of travel in a vehicle which has again demonstrated its functionality, has improved in performance to the extent that it reached the objective without suffering significant deterioration, in contrast to what had happened just five years earlier. A WindSled with which they were able to collect valuable scientific samples to help us better understand Antarctica’s interior.

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