The Week in Amateur Space - January 26

If you follow me on Twitter, you get my tweets as soon as I get any amateur space news. Every week I summarize the reports to give you a single snapshot - in over 140 characters - of how many different ways people like you explore space. 

Enabling Amateur Space Exploration

Physics World interviewed Chris Lintott, co-founder of the Zooniverse science crowdsourcing service. After reviewing the origins of GalaxyZoo, Lintott discusses the opportunities that citizen science creates for scientists. He also talks about how crowdsourced projects need to improve.

What does it mean for amateurs? As scientists become more sophisticated in their use of crowdsourcing and develop better ways of communicating with citizen scientists, the public will become more engaged and will understand the difference between science and what Lintott calls “the Hollywood version” we see on TV.

Several astronomy outreach stories appeared last week. The University of Wyoming’s Harry C. Vaughn Planetarium reopened after a $1,400,000 upgrade that includes an endowment for outreach activities. Already receiving more than 3,000 visitors a year, the new digital planetarium will admit students in grades K-12 free of charge. The astronomy program at North Carolina’s Cape Fear Museum will reach 2,000 3rd graders. And a Connecticut astronomy society upgraded its telescopes at the Bowman Observatory (via Connecticut Post).

What does it mean for amateurs? These are examples of how the falling price and rising performance of technology is making astronomy more accessible. Students are more likely to study math and science if they catch the bug during their middle school years (or earlier). By creating more opportunities to introduce kids to the science of astronomy, investments like these will have lasting impacts.

Exploring the Solar System

Amateur radio enthusiasts will be listening to asteroid 2004BL86 during its near miss of Earth, reported Southgate Amateur Radio News. While asteroids don’t make noise, astronomers will use the Arecibo Radio Observatory as a radar system to map the asteroid. Ham radio operators can tune into those frequencies to hear the signal echo back to Earth.

Scientific American interviewed Australian amateur comet-hunter Terry Lovejoy. He explained how he has automated his personal observatory to scan hundreds of images every night for potential comets.

Mars One Monday

A weekly news round-up about the project to send people on a one-way journey to Mars

Nothing new from the Mars One organization last week, but National Geographic picked this short documentary featuring 5 Mars one candidates for its Short Film Showcase.

The press spoke with several Mars One candidates in the past week:

Exploring the Planet Earth

Human rights groups in Africa document abuses using satellite data, All Africa reports. Human Rights Watch, the Satellite Sentinel Project, and others use satellite images to document atrocities and other human rights abuses in areas too remote or dangerous for observers on the ground to reach. For example this Human Rights Watch dispatch shows satellite images of the widespread destruction Boko Haram has inflicted on northern Nigeria:

Public reports of severe storms are important tools for the National Weather Service's meteorologists, reports Florida’s WTSP. Weather radar systems have blind spots that storm-spotter reports help fill. The NWS Skywarn program trains the public in how to observe and report severe weather safely.

An earthquake struck Texas beneath the site of the old Texas Stadium, the Dallas Morning News reported. More than 40 minor earthquakes have shaken the region between Love Field and Dallas/Fort Worth International airport in the past year. Tuesday’s magnitude 3.0 quake generated more than 600 public reports to the USGS Did You Feel It program.

Amateur Microgravity Research

Italian teens took control of robots on the International Space Station, Research Italy reported. They were part of the Nasa/Esa Zero Robotics programming contest which held its final round earlier this month. The winning team was an international alliance of American and Italian high school students. They programmed the Spheres robots on the International Space Station to simulate an asteroid mission.

Oregonian 9th graders will send an experiment to the International Space Station later this year, the Blue Mountain Eagle reports. Their experiment will study the effect of microgravity on protein folding in bacteria. They will send it to orbit as part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program's Mission 7.

Making Spaceships

Scientists with Nasa's Kennedy Space Center tool this before-and-after shot that shows how their force field repels simulated lunar regolith. Hawaiian high school students may test the technology on the Moon. Source: Nasa

Scientists with Nasa's Kennedy Space Center tool this before-and-after shot that shows how their force field repels simulated lunar regolith. Hawaiian high school students may test the technology on the Moon. Source: Nasa

Hawaiian high school students will build an experiment that could go to the Moon. Nasa and Pisces, the Pacific International Space Center for Exploration Systems, signed a deal to let the students use technology created by Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center that repels dust using an electric field. The Moon's fine-grained regolith played havoc with the equipment the Apollo astronauts used during their Moon landings. Reducing the effect of moondust would make lunar exploration easier. If everything works out, Hawaii’s young scientists could be the first students to send an experiment to the Moon.

Central Washington’s Wapato High School has joined High Schools Uniting with Nasa to Create Hardware, reports the Yakima Herald. Inspired by storage coolers at local apple orchards, the students are designing a cold storage chamber that could work in microgravity. This summer the students will get a chance to test their invention out during a microgravity aircraft flight.

Nasa’s In-space Manufacturing group wants makers to test the space agency’s 3D printer on the International Space Station. Astronauts on the space station use something called a Handrail Clamp Assembly to temporarily attach equipment to the station’s interior handrails. Here on Earth you can set a laptop or a box of nails on a workbench and count on it staying there. In space it floats away. The Handrail Clamp Assemblies let the astronauts work without having to chase down loose equipment all the time. Makers can design a 3D printable Handrail Clamp Assembly and submit it to the GrabCad engineering file sharing service. A panel of judges will pick the best designs to print in space. Astronauts will test the designs in orbit and then Nasa’s engineers will test the printed objects’ mechanical properties back on Earth. Makers with the best entries will split a $2,000 prize pool.

The number of British high altitude balloon flights rose 57%, Sky News reports. Consumer technology and kits from companies like Sent Into Space make it easier than ever for schools and citizen scientists to send cameras and experiments into Near Space.

The Korea Herald spoke with a Korean artist who built his own satellite. The $100,000 project, financed with a loan from his parents, would have done nothing beyond broadcasting a radio signal. The satellite failed after being launched from Russia's Baikonur Kosmodrome, but artist Song Ho-jun is making a documentary of the process.

Brazilian amateur radio enthusiasts are waiting for astronauts to deploy their satellite, Amsat-UK reports. Graduate and undergraduate students at Brazil’s Technology Institute of Aerospace designed the satellite, AESP-14, which contains an amateur radio experiment designed by a local amateur radio club.