Amateur Space Weekly - September 12

Every week I recap headlines from the world of amateur space exploration. From students sending research to the International Space Station to retirees searching for planets orbiting other stars, space exploration belongs to more than just the astronauts.

Space Makers

Canadian and Polish universities earned top honors in the European Rover Challenge. Twenty-four teams from twelve countries took part in the European Rover Challenge, an annual student robotics contest. The teams work for a year to design a Mars rover before putting their designs to the test in Podzamcze, Poland. The rovers must autonomously navigate a simulated Martian terrain, gather rock samples for scientific investigation, and execute a series of maintenance tasks. Canadian students from the University of Saskatchewan took first place, reported The Star Phoenix. Poland's Bialystok University of Technology and Canada's McGill University took second and third place respectively. The only American team, students from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, finished in 10th place. Polish tech site CHIP covered the event, including the ERC’s science fair and Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmidt’s appearance.

Several educational and amateur radio satellites are on the way to launch. University students in the United Arab Emirates sent their Nayif-1 for testing in the Netherlands in advance of their late 2015 launch (SAR News). A Qatari geostationary satellite will let amateur radio enthusiasts communicate globally (Gulf Times). Thailand has funded a local amateur satellite effort (SAR News).

Students at the Netherland’s Delft University of Technology are preparing their high performance rocket for launch. Forty students have spent the past four years developing the 200 kilogram Stratos II. If everything goes to plan next month, the rocket will soar 50 kilometers above a launch site in Spain.

An American rocket builder in Nebraska built his own two-stage rocket for an upcoming launch festival, the Norfolk Daily News reports. The 12-foot rocket could reach an altitude of 25,000 feet.

The North Dakota Near Space Balloon Competition has opened to middle school and high school students throughout the state. The students will design a Mars-precursor experiment that the University of North Dakota’s high altitude balloon team will fly into the stratosphere. Stipends from the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium will cover the students’ expenses, including their travel to the balloon launch site.

The challenge of recovering near space balloons reached a new level, SAR News reports. A team of South African amateurs chased their balloon as it climbed 32,465 meters over the KwaZulu Natal Midlands. Their recovery effort came to a sudden halt when the balloon and its instrument payload landed in a rhino pen. A friendly ranger retrieved the equipment safely.

Amateurs in Zero-G

Teenagers from the Texas border region will send a science experiment to the International Space Station, the Monitor reports. The McAllen Independent School District has joined the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program, a non-profit organization that helps communities develop student space experiments. Hundreds of students will spend the next month developing a proposal for microgravity research for review by a panel of local judges. The students who submit the best three proposals. Will travel to Washington, DC, to pitch an expert panel of educators and scientists. The winning experiment will ride a resupply launch to the International Space Station early next year.

Exploring the Solar System

Idaho science teachers joined Nasa researchers testing Mars exploration techniques, the Idaho Press Tribune reports. Scientists from Nasa's Ames Research Center conduct their expeditions in the lava fields at Craters of the Moon National Monument. Their outreach program, Spaceward Bound, gives teachers hands-on experience conducting real scientific fieldwork and analysis that they can take back to the classroom.

Several meteors produced dramatic fireballs last week. A fireball streaked across America’s mid-Atlantic states - and was caught by a camera atop the Washington Monument. The American Meteor Society received 22 reports from the public. An even brighter daytime meteor disintegrated over Bangkok, Thailand

The Sungrazer project is nearing its 3,000th comet discovery, Universe Today reports. Citizen scientists review daily images of the Sun from the Soho space telescope to detect comets that approach our local star. They submit their discoveries to the project’s site at the Naval Research Laboratory. These comets pass within 50,000 kilometers of the Sun’s surface - a few even survive the searing heat. 

Exploring Deep Space

Water vapor in the lower atmosphere absorbs most infrared light before it reaches ground-based telescopes. The Sofia airborne observatory, a joint venture of Nasa and the German space agency DLR, carries a 2.5 meter infrared telescope 14 kilometers above the Earth to conduct infrared astronomy. Credit: Nasa/Jim Ross

The Sofia Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program lets science educators conduct infrared astronomy side-by-side with professionals on board the American/German flying observatory. The Alamogordo News reported on how local educators will use their experience to enhance science education in New Mexico.

With this early study we’ve comfortably shown that anyone, once we’ve trained them through our tutorial, is as good as our expert panel.
— Dr. Julie Banfield, University of Western Australia

Citizen science project Radio Galaxy Zoo has crowdsourced 1.2 million classifications of galactic black holes. The project’s scientists have reviewed the project’s first year in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stv1688, arXiv: 1507.07272). Active galactic nuclei are black holes at the center of a galaxy that are accreting massive amounts of material. The intense magnetic fields send jets of particles streaming from the AGN’s poles. Radio Galaxy Zoo contributors match radio telescope images of these jets with infrared telescope images of the galaxies. The scientists found that crowdsourcing is just as effective as relying on expert scientists. The participants did the equivalent of 104,000 hours of work as they matched 60,000 radio sources to their host galaxies.