Amateur Space Weekly - June 21

Test firing of a 3D printed rocket engine designed by undergraduates at the University of California San Diego. Credit: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

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 the many different ways people like you explore space. 

Space Makers

Rocket Makers

Alabama teenagers became world champion rocketeers over the weekend. RCS Engineering conducted dozens of model rocket launches over the past year to win the Team America Rocketry Challenge and represent the United States at the Paris Air Show’s International Flyoff. Their rocket outperformed national teams from the United Kingdom and France. Check out local coverage at WAAY-TV,, and the Times Daily. American participation is sponsored by the Raytheon Corporation's Math Moves You project.

UCSD undergraduates at a recent test firing of their 3D printed rocket engine. Credit: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

Students at the University of California San Diego plan to break the world record for a  3D-printed rocket engine. (UCSD press release). Undergraduates in the local Students for the Exploration and Development Space finished their testing program and will make their first launch attempt later this week. “We’re aiming for our rocket to fly 10,000 feet in the air,” SEDS business manager and first-year engineering student Darren Charrier said in the press release. “We all watched the first record being set a few weekends ago – the first 3D-printed rocket engine went 60 feet in the air.”

CBS Denver featured three community college students who overcame difficult childhoods to become Nasa Spacegrant scholars. The students will participate in the Rock-On rocketry workshop at Nasa’s Wallops Flight Facility.

Other Rocket Maker News:

  • Nasa’s Wallops Rocket Academy for Teachers starts this week. (Nasa)
  • Texas middle school rocket team honored for their performance at the Team America Rocketry Challenge. (Radio New Braunfels)
  • A Wisconsin 4H Club’s robots and rockets programs lead one teen to an aerospace engineering major. (Star Journal)

Cansat Makers

Poland’s AGH University of Science and Technology won the annual Cansat Competition, Radio Poland reports. Forty-two teams from around the world arrived in Texas to take part in the contest. Their task was to design a science vehicle the size of a soda can that could survive a rocket launch and descent while collecting data and protecting its fragile cargo - a raw egg. This was the first year that the AGH University students had participated in the Cansat Competition according to Radio Poland

Scoil Mhuire gan Smál students won the Irish finals of the European Cansat Competition, the Irish Examiner reports. The European Space Agency sponsors the annual event to encourage European students to pursue careers in engineering and the sciences. Team Steve’s Arduino-based cansat collects data on temperature, atmospheric pressure, and acceleration during its 1 kilometer rocket ride and descent. They will travel to Portugal this week to compete in the European finals.

Near Space Makers

A stratospheric view of North Carolina captured by first-year students at High Point University. Credit: High Point University

High Point University is making near space exploration a cornerstone of its pre-engineering and physics programs. In-coming freshman gain practical, hands-on experience when they design and fly a high altitude balloon project. Sensors on board the balloon collect data on conditions in the stratosphere for analysis. The program’s first flight last week reached an altitude of 80,000 feet before bursting and descending safely to the ground.

Students at a  Wisconsin elementary school flew a sensor-ladened weather balloon 120,000 feet into the stratosphere. Their teacher, Jenna McCann, told Wisconsin News that the students followed a year-long development cycle that included dropping designs for the instruments’ protective container off the school’s roof.

The Victoria Advocate ran a guest column about an elementary school near space project that flew over coastal Texas. The Museum of the Coastal Bend in Victoria, Texas, developed a high altitude balloon and asked elementary schools from across the region to propose science experiments. The balloon carried student investigations into the stratosphere’s environment: would the low air pressure pop bubble wrap, would the cold temperatures break glass, and would intense ultraviolet radiation fog film.

Other Near Space News:

Amateurs in Microgravity

Last fall the Antares rocket exploded on the launch pad, destroying supplies for the International Space Station and experiments from dozens of schools participating in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. Canada’s McGowan Park Elementary School was one of those schools. Grade 7 students had designed a crystal growth experiment to understand how materials form in zero-g. A rush effort by the SSEP, Nasa, and SpaceX sent the students’ experiment into orbit in January. When it returned to Earth in February, Catanet reports, the students used scanning electron microscopes to compare the crystals to a set of control crystals grown in the classroom. The students will present their results at a conference in Washington, DC, next month.

Canada’s plans to host zero-gravity tourism faces regulatory delays, the North Bay Nipissing News reports. Swiss Space Systems (S3) plans to fly aircraft on parabolic flight paths to create brief periods of weightlessness as well as to simulate the gravity on Mars and the Moon. It plans to subsidize scientific research flights by conducting tourist flights out of airports around the world. Unlike Nasa’s DC-9 which has room for 20 people, S3’s Airbus aircraft will hold up to 71 passengers in economy, premium, and VIP zones with tickets starting at 2500CHF (~US$2700). According to the North Bay Nipissing News report, the European certification process has taken longer than S3 expected which will delay their planned operations into the new year.

Five student teams from across America became finalists in the Genes in Space competition. The contest asked students in grades 7-12 to propose experiments that would solve “real life space exploration problems” through DNA analysis. Four of the teams will study the effect of cosmic radiation on DNA, while a fifth will test technology for detecting extraterrestrial life. Harvard and MIT scientists will mentor the students prior to review by a panel of experts in July. The winning team will send its experiment to the International Space Station 

Massachusetts technology teacher Kristin Magas received the Air Force Association’s Teacher of the Year award, the Sun Chronicle reports. She earned the award for her work expanding technology education at the Tri-County Regional Vocational Technical High School. Magas supervises the school’s participation in High schools United with Nasa to Create Hardware. She and her students recently went to Nasa’s Johnson Space Center to test a project on the space agency’s microgravity aircraft.

Observing the Planet Earth

Canadian Earth observation company Urthecast released its first high definition video from the International Space Station. The video shows the cities of London, Boston, and Barcelona at high enough resolution to see traffic on the city streets. CEO Scott Larson announced that this is the first step in Urthecast’s goal to democratize Earth observation imagery. Urthecast's plans to freely display the videos, according to The Globe and Mail “brings a new dimension to what has, until now, been a relatively selective and static way of looking down on the planet.”

Other Observing Planet Earth News:

  • A New York strategy consultant curates images of Earth from space on the Daily Overview website. (Slate)
  • Environmental watch dog Skytruth uses satellite imagery and big data to combat illegal fishing. (National Geographic)

Amateurs Exploring the Solar System

Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts Academic Linkage (Rascal) is a Nasa-sponsored contest that asks graduate and undergraduate students to design systems that reduce astronauts’ dependence on Earth during deep space missions. An all-female team of undergraduates from the University of Maryland won the competition with their proposal to create fuels from lunar resources. Pat Troutman, the Human Exploration Strategic Analysis lead at Nasa’s Langley Research Center, said in the Nasa press release “The judges and I were impressed by the students' engineering skills and innovative thinking."

Congratulations to our First, Second, and Third place overall winners! First - University of MarylandSecond - Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, "MARVEL"Third - University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Posted by Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts - Academic Linkages on Thursday, June 18, 2015

Other Solar System Exploration News

  • British amateur astronomer Damien Peach reprocessed an image to show Jupiter’s shrinking Great Red Spot as it looked in the 19th century. (Universe Today)
  • Canadian amateur image processor Phil Stooke created a map of the Curiosity rover’s travels using publicly available images from Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (Wired)

Other News in Amateur Space Exploration

The Alamogordo Astronomy Club donated a telescope to the local library as part of its public outreach program, the Alamogordo News reports. Telescope donations are a national trend among astronomy clubs. Libraries already have the systems in place to manage - and recover - loaned items. Members of the astronomy clubs have the knowledge and skills to conduct training sessions and maintain telescopes. By working together, astronomy clubs and libraries enhance the public’s appreciation of astronomy and students’ interest in science.

Dozens of students attended the Chickasaw Nation Aviation and Space Academy last week, the Ada News reports. Now in its twelfth year, the program encourages Native American students to pursue careers in science-related fields.

Welsh students visited Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center, ITV reports. The trip was sponsored by the International Space School Educational Trust which gets British students engaged in science and math through space-related activities.