Amateur Space Weekly - October 11

An amateur satellite turns 42, Australian teens doing science in space, mapping Hurricane Matthew's destruction in Haiti. Every week I recap headlines like these from around the world. Read all about the growing number of people who take space exploration in their own hands.

  • Featured News: Teachers doing astrophysics research with Nasa, crowdsourcing light pollution observations, working with Nasa images from Jupiter, and more.
  • Space Makers: Amateur satellite turns 42, Canada's undergrad satellite makers, contests to build space hardware.
  • Amateurs in Space: Australian teens' research ready for launch, Singapore school prepares zero-g biology experiment.
  • Exploring Earth: Learn how to study oceans from space, map hurricane data in Haiti, weather spotting, and crowdsourcing earthquake data.
  • Exploring the Solar System: India's Mars data now public, fireballs over Canada and the US, an amateur makes 10,000 asteroid observations.
  • Exploring Deep Space: New research papers rely on amateur astronomers, adapting Nasa crowdsourcing to study Alzheimers' effects on the brain.
  • Outreach, Tourism, and Other News: Citizen scientists analyze data from the Large Hadron Collider, recruiting a new generation of South African astronomers, and more.

Featured News

Space Makers

The "icehouse" was one of the Phase 1 designs created for Nasa's 3D Printed Habitat Challenge. Phase 2 opened last week and will ask makers to figure out how to print structural elements for a Martian habitat. Credit: Nasa

An amateur-built satellite is one month away from completing its forty second year in space, Amateur Radio Relay News reports. A team of amateurs from Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United States built the Oscar-7 amateur radio satellite in 1974. A short circuit knocked out the battery in 1981 but its solar panels keep the satellite working forty two years after its launch. 

Concordia University's student satellite-builders hope to reach orbit, The Link reports. A regular competitor in the Canadian Satellite Design Competition, the students on team Space Concordia want to take their work to the next level. They hope their next satellite will get a ride into orbit to test self-healing spacecraft materials.

The United Kingdom Students for the Exploration and Development of Space launched a contest for British university students. The SSPI Satellite Design Competition challenges students to design a communication system for CubeSats orbiting the Moon.

America’s amateur rocket-makers had their best performance at the World Space Modelling Championships, the Digital Journal reports. The biannual competition drew model rocket makers from around the world to Ukraine for five days of competitive rocket launching. The US team won a dozen medals and placed third overall.

A Nasa manager explains how the public can develop tech for the space agency in this video from Spacedotcom. At the turn of the century Nasa’s leadership wanted to bring fresh ideas into its technology development process. The space agency and its contractors employed some of the best engineers in the country to create never-before-seen technologies. But there was always a risk of groupthink as these people used the same approach to solve technological challenges. Nasa created the Centennial Challenges program in 2005 to bring in ideas from outside the traditional space community. Each challenge is a competition that awards cash prizes to teams that develop particular technologies. The teams come from universities, small businesses, and the maker community rather than from the space industry.

The 3D Printed Habitat Challenge offers a $2.5 million to teams that develop ways to build bases on other worlds. The first phase of the competition sought proposals for overall habitat design. The second phase, announced last week, asks teams to design a Mars habitat’s structural elements in a way that can be 3D printed from Martian materials.

Nasa kicked off a contest to develop astronaut heads-up displays. The space agency’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory is a giant swimming pool where astronauts train for work outside the International Space Station. One of the most important thing astronauts learn in the NBL is how to balance forces. Even the slightest nudge can send an astronaut floating away from the space station. Nasa has wired the EVA suits with “underwater force/torque transducers” and displays the data to help astronauts understand how best to place their feet and hands. The contest asks designers at the Freelancer market place to improve the way the transducer data are displayed.

Mexican engineering students were honored for their work on a Nasa rover design contest, the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México announced (in Spanish). They had competed in Nasa’s Sample Return Robot Challenge, a contest to develop automated rovers for a future robotic mission to Mars. In recognition of their work, the students received the Hans von Mulau prize at the International Astronautics Conference.

Proyecto Daedalus is a Spanish team that flies high altitude balloon projects for scientists and local schools. A paper published in the Proceedings of the SPIE (paywall doi: 10.1117/12.223300, open arXiv: 1609.07952) summarizes their scientific work. Campaigns have included observing meteor showers and measuring light pollution over Madrid.

The Canadian Reduced Gravity Experiment Design Challenge will give four teams of Canadian university students a chance to conduct microgravity research. The National Research Council operates a Falcon-20 jet for the Canadian Space Agency. Just like Nasa’s vomit comet, the jet flies a parabolic path that creates brief periods of weightlessness. Student-led teams have until the end of November to submit their research proposals.

Amateurs in Space

Cuberider is a program that lets Australian high school students conduct experiments in orbit. One thousand students from sixty schools programmed a CubeSat-based sensor platform to design their research projects. Cuberider will load the students’ code onto a CubeSat that will ride into orbit on a Japanese supply mission to the International Space Station.

Students at the Singapore American School will study the effect of melanin on bacteria in microgravity. They have joined the Valley Christian High School’s ISS Partner School Program which sends student research to the International Space Station.

Exploring Earth

Hurricane Matthew from Eumetsat's Metop-B weather satellite. An online course will teach you how to study the oceans' effect on weather, climate, and biodiversity using satellite data. Credit: Eumetsat

Eumetsat launched an online course on studying oceans from space. The free five-week course introduces the public to the use of remote sensing satellites to study our planet. Oceans from Space will cover ocean-related topics such as climate, weather, and biodiversity.

Emergency responders and humanitarian organizations will get free access to satellite images of Haiti. Data from Digital Globe’s remote sensing satellites will give them before-and-after views of the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew. You can help map the damage by participating in Tomnod’s crowdsourcing campaign.

Storm spotters in the United States get a little closer to the action. Volunteers in the National Weather Service’s Skywarn program report severe weather to local NWS offices to give meteorologists on-the-ground data that radars can’t see. Meteorologist Gary Woodall explained to The Courier how storm spotters “play a huge role” in the development of storm warnings.

An Australian enthusiast wants to create a network of weather monitors, ABC reports. Volunteers report daily measurements of rainfall that meteorologists can use to predict flooding and droughts.

MyShake is a smartphone app that crowdsources seismic data. The project’s scientists published their first paper describing their initial results. Downloaded 200,000 times, the app’s users submit 8,000 reports a day. Unfortunately, this citizen science-powered research is locked behind a paywall (doi: 10.1002/2016GL070955).

Exploring the Solar System

More than 500 images of Mars are publicly accessible from the ISRO's archives. Credit: ISRO

India’s space agency publicly released data from its Mars Orbiter Mission, the Planetary Society reports. This includes more than 500 pictures taken with the spacecraft’s Mars Color Camera during its first year in orbit. The Ahmedabad Mirror reports on an ISRO program that lets India’s university students work with all two years of data from Mars.

The American Meteor Society receive reports of two fireballs that appeared over the Great Lakes region. An October 4 fireball passed over Pennsylvania and New York, generating 780 public reports. An October 10 fireball passed over Ontario north of Toronto, generating 480 public reports. The AMS uses these reports to calculate a trajectory for the meteor, tracing its origin in the Solar System as well as the site of any meteorite falls.

An amateur astronomer made his 10,001st asteroid observation, the Courier-Journal reports. Gary Hug uses a 22-inch telescope to detect the faint light of asteroids from his rural Kansas observatory. He submits these observations to the Minor Planet Center which uses the data to calculate asteroids’ orbits. 

Exploring Deep Space

Several research papers that rely on amateurs hit arXiv last week. A study of Be-star variability (arXiv: 1609.08449) uses amateur spectroscopic observations. A study of the RV Tau-type pulsating star DF Cygni (arXiv: 1609.07944) relied on 50 years of observations by 110 amateur astronomers with the American Association of Variable Star Observers. A study of V2051 Oph’s accretion disk (arXiv: 1610.00665) relied on amateur observations.

Research into Alzheimers’ disease has adapted crowdsourcing techniques developed by Nasa. After the space agency’s Stardust mission returned to Earth, scientists needed help finding particles of ash from supernova explosions. They created Stardust@Home, the longest-lasting space crowdsourcing project. The Stall Catchers project adapts that technology to map the effects of Alzheimers on the human brain.

Outreach, Tourism, and Other News

Citizen science doesn’t just help the professionals understand stars and galaxies. The Higgs Hunters project asks the public for help detecting particles generated by the Large Hadron Collider. Project scientists published their first paper (arXiv: 1610.02214) which found that the combined effort of 32,000 citizen scientists was just as effective as CERN’s computer algorithms.

The Christian Science Monitor reported on a scientist’s efforts to recruit a new generation of astronomers in South Africa. Rather than target students at his country’s elite universities, astrophysicist Thebe Medupe turned to lower-tiered, traditionally black universities. Long starved for funding by white governments, these schools are essential to support South Africa’s future in cutting edge astronomy research.

Other news in amateur space exploration: