The Week in Amateur Space Exploration - March 13

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

Massachusetts high school teacher Naomi Volain is a finalist for the Global Teacher Prize. She is a member of the Nasa Educator Astronaut Network - 200 teachers who almost qualified to be the first teacher-astronauts since Christa McAullife. She regularly includes aspects of space exploration in her teaching from showing samples of Moon rocks to helping Nasa’s S’Cool program to improve climate-monitoring satellites.

What does this mean for amateurs? Space exploration and dinosaurs are gateways that lead young students to careers in science and engineering. Often that path is set by the time a student reaches middle school. Teachers like Volain bring the excitement of space exploration into the classroom - and show students that they don’t have to wait to explore space.

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department wants to make all of its parks dark sky sites, San Antonio’s Express-News reports. Four parks are already certified by the International Dark Sky Association with another dozen in the works. The TPWD’s Dark Skies Program works with local astronomy groups to promote stargazing and and raise awareness of light pollution’s effects.

What does this mean for amateurs? The world is becoming ever more urbanized. People in developed - and most developing nations - can live their lives without seeing more than a handful of stars in the night sky. Efforts like Texas’s Dark Skies Program are helping to stem the tide and raise hope that civilization doesn’t have to lose its connection to the Universe beyond our planet.

Exploring Deep Space

British astronomers and the BBC are crowdsourcing the most detailed picture of the constellation Orion. They have asked people to submit pictures of the upper half of Orion to the Stargazing Live Flickr group. It doesn’t matter whether the camera is an astronomical CCD, a DSLR, a point-and-shoot, or a smartphone. The scientists will combine all of the images together using… math. (From the description it sounds like the algorithm developed by astrometry)

Exploring the Solar System

MarsBalloon lets kids do the same thing as the pros. Nasa’s Exposing Microorganisms in the Stratosphere experiment looked at how well Earth’s microbes survive in conditions similar to Mars. The research will help prevent contaminating the Martian environment when microbes hitch a ride on the space agency’s robotic missions. Credit: Nasa/GoPro

MarsBalloon opened its 2015 season. Primary and secondary schools across the United Kingdom can send experiments into the stratosphere on a high altitude balloon. One hundred experiment capsules will ride the balloon 30km above Earth’s surface. Conditions at this altitude are very similar to conditions on the surface of Mars. The experiments, which must fit inside a Kinder Egg™, will test how materials might react on future Mars exploration missions.

The latest space Kickstarter project will bring Mars to the favelas of Brazil. A team of scientists and filmmakers want to improve the teaching of science and math in Rio de Janero’s favelas by conducting a 2-week Mars Academy. Classroom learning will be supplemented with field trips to the Brazilian rainforest, and will culminate in a research project that takes control of Esa’s Mars Express orbiter to take a picture of Mars. Filmmakers will document the workshop.

Meteors streaked over the United States and Australia last week. A green fireball over Colorado during rush hour generated a lot of media coverage as well as over 170 reports to the American Meteor Society. The AMS later tweeted me with confirmation from Nasa’s Meteoroid Environment Office - the fireball was an Earth-skimmer. Photographer Colin Legg was on a nighttime flight which gave him a different perspective of a meteor shower. Business Insider shared the report originally posted by Earth & Sky.  A fireball over Australia last week generated a search by a pro-am team of meteorite scientists, but the ABC reports the team of meteorite hunters came back empty-handed.

Exploring the Planet Earth

Activists demonstrated the power of space technology to make the world a better place. Activists with #withSyria highlighted the suffering in the war-torn Middle East, Amnesty International reported, by using satellite data. The before-and-after images show that 83% of the lights SkyTruth helped capture a pirate fishing boat. Most ships carry radio transmitters that search and rescue satellites can track. The benefits are so high that even illegal fishing boats keep the transmitters running. SkyTruth volunteers helped Pulau's authorities track and arrest a Taiwanese fish pirate.

Scientists at the University of Reading want citizen scientists to help study solar eclipses' effects on Earth’s atmosphere. Cloud spotters can simply send in their descriptions of cloud formations. Weather spotters can submit temperature and windspeed data.

Citizen scientists can help make their local community safer by becoming a storm-spotter. Noaa’s National Weather Service is actively recruiting for its Skywarn network. Weather technology isn’t perfect. There’s a lot that meteorologists can’t see in radar images or data from weather stations. A NWS meteorologist in Ohio explained how the state’s 5,000 volunteers help improve real-time forecasts of bad weather. (Sydney Daily News) Another volunteer network, Cocorahs, reports rain and snowfall measurements, giving meteorologists insights into conditions between widely-separated weather stations. North Carolina’s Cocorahs coordinator explained how the state’s 500 volunteers fill in the gaps to protect people from floods. (WECT)

Public reports of earthquakes play an essential role in emergency response as well as long-term seismic research. The US Geological Survey received public reports of almost 40 earthquakes around the world. The most reported quakes include: Oklahoma (Magnitude 4.0, 584 reports), Colombia (M6.2, 475 reports), San Francisco (M3.0, 440 reports), Hawaii (M3.7, 229 reports). The European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre received public reports of 10 earthquakes around the world. The most reported quakes include: Serbia (Magnitude 4.5, 77 reports), Australia (M2.8, 35 reports) and Colombia (M6.2, 32 reports).

Amateurs in Microgravity

Only two stories about the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program’s student microgravity experiments this week. Minnesota’s Marshall High School displayed their frog embryo experiment at a local museum, reported the Northlands News Center. California’s Damien High School is holding a space symposium to raise money for students’ microgravity research, reported the Daily Bulletin.

Making Spaceships

The European Cansat competition is in full swing. Secondary school students across Europe are loading their soda-can sized “satellites” into rockets and blasting them hundreds of meters in the sky. Two Galway teams tied in Ireland's regional finals, reports the Galway Advertiser. They will advance to the Irish finals for the chance to represent Ireland at the Europe wide launch-off in June where high performance rockets will launch the cansats 1 kilometer above Portugal.

The Planetary Society updated the status of their LightSail Project. The member-supported project will test light sail technology in orbit later this year thanks to a free launch from Nasa. “Our LightSail cubesat passed every one of its tests,” Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye said in a press release, “and has been loaded into its launcher mechanism.” Jason Davis provides more details on LightSail’s status on the Planetary Society blog.

The 2015 Space Apps Challenge opened for registration. The weekend of April 11, programmers around the world will start a 48-hour hackathon. They will use the space agency’s open API’s and data sources to create apps that meet one of twenty-five challenges in four categories - Earth, Outer Space, Humans, and Robotics. Last year’s challenge attracted 8200 people in 46 countries who created 671 apps. Winning teams came from Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Australian amateur rocketeers have created the largest model rocket ever. Makezine reported that the full-scale model of Germany’s V2 rocket will produce as much thrust as a sidewinder missile. The rocketeers will launch their V2 into the skies over Australia during this weekend’s Thunda Down Unda model rocketry meet. I wonder if New Zealand is worried?

Another rocketeer in New Jersey has turned to 3D printing to make his open source rocket engines real. Hackaday reports that he uses Shapeway’s metal printers to create most of the parts. The project is documented on the Fubarlabs wiki.

Now that drones have gone commercial, Network World world wrote about the next hobby for makers - DIY satellites. Although the story mentions the $50Sat project (which cost about $300) it focuses on PocketQubs, small satellites an eighth the size of a CubeSat. Scotland’s PocketQube Shop sells a $6000 kit that includes everything the maker needs to make their very own Sputnik. Of course you can pay more for extras… like launching the satellite. The price for that starts at $35,000. So skip those Frappucinos and start saving.