Nasa hacks a zero-g motion capture system with everyday tech, volunteer astronauts, and crowdsourcing astronomy. Every week I recap headlines from around the world about the growing number of people who take space exploration in their own hands.
- Featured News: Helping Nasa explore asteroids, teachers conduct research with Nasa scientists, citizen scientists measure light pollution, and more.
- Space Makers: Nasa rocket contest launches, hacking together motion capture for zero-g, lunar CubeSats head to the judges, small college CanSat to compete with major universities, India’s “Apollo moment” inspires youth, design 3D parts for the Atlas V.
- Amateurs in Space: Citizen science astronauts graduate, volunteers complete Nasa simulation, New York vocational program to build parts for Nasa, New Jersey teens prepare second mission to orbit.
- Exploring Earth: The shape of leisure from space, using Earth science for NGSS, Internet-of-Things to measure air quality, Oklahoma needs more weather-spotters, surfers crowdsource ocean science.
- Exploring the Solar System: Mapping spiders on Mars
- Exploring Deep Space: Crowdsourcing research on stellar disks, supernovae, and nebulae; crowdfunding radio astronomy; and using Gaia to enhance amateur astronomy.
- Outreach, Tourism, and Other News: Eclipse tourism in Idaho, and British schools conducting Near Space missions.
The Nasa Student Launch program challenges undergraduates and secondary school students to build and launch a high performance rocket. The year-long program requires students to pass through the same project review process as the space agency’s own mission teams. Nasa picked 48 undergraduate teams and 12 secondary school teams from 23 states for the 2016-2017 competition.
For all of the money Nasa gets to explore space, sometimes the space agency’s researchers must get creative. This presentation describes how Nasa researchers hacked together a motion capture system for its zero-g research flights. Traditional motion capture systems are too big and delicate for the extreme acrobatics of a parabolic flight. Open source Python code, $300 Sony camcorders, and a bag of craft store pom-poms got the job done.
Nasa’s CubeQuest Challenge will send CubeSats designed by universities and makers to the Moon. The competitors must pass a four “ground tournaments” to earn a place in the final evaluation. Results of the third round will be announced this week. [To learn more, check out my interview with Team Miles a band of makers founded in a Tampa maker space.]
The CanSat Competition challenges undergraduate students to build model satellites which are launched on high performance rockets. Although organized by American aerospace organizations, universities around the world send their best teams to this annual contest. Merrimack College, a small private college in Massachusetts, will field its own team, reports The Beacon.
Team Indus is the only Google Lunar X-Prize competitor from India. In an interview with Spacewatch ME, co-founder Julius Amrit expressed his hope that the “Apollo moment” when an Indian-built robot lands on the Moon will inspire his country’s youth to pursue careers in science and engineering.
Tory Bruno challenged makers to design 3D-printed parts for the Atlas V launch vehicle. The CEO of United Launch Alliance described the ULA Rocket Hardware Challenge and the role that 3D printing plays in ULA’s own manufacturing process.
Amateurs in Space
Project Possum graduated its latest class of Scientist-Astronaut Candidates. Students from Angola, Italy, India, and the United States completed the weeklong program that included spacesuit training, endurance training, and mission simulations. The graduates hope to conduct scientific research once suborbital launch vehicles enter service. In the meantime they will help Possum evaluate spacesuits on zero-g parabolic aircraft flights.
Volunteers are helping Nasa’s astronaut program transition from space station-centric operations to deep space exploration. The Human Exploration Research Analog program isolates people in a simulated space habitat to study the human factors and operational aspects of extended missions. Mission XII “returned” to Earth last week after a month-long simulation of an asteroid mission. The program’s flight director explained in the press release that the volunteers must fit a profile similar to the one used to select astronauts.
High schools United with Nasa for the Creation of Hardware (Hunch) is part of Nasa's efforts to foster America's modern manufacturing industry by bringing shop classes back to secondary schools. Students learn how to use modern manufacturing tools from computer aided design to 3D printing. Along the way they build spare parts for the International Space Station. The Lockport Journal reported from the kickoff of this year’s Hunch program in New York.
The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program helps communities send middle and high school research projects to the International Space Station. More than sixty-one thousand students in the United States and Canada have participated in the SSEP in its six year history. Patch reported on a New Jersey school district’s second mission to the space station. Last year Springfield students sent rye seeds into orbit to study the effects of microgravity on plant germination.
America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration created a microsite for its education programs. Created in response to a workshop with science educators, the site organizes resources based on four themes: teaching science at the elementary level, modeling, the use of real-time data, and engineering. From ocean science curricula to modeling the El Niño effect, to measuring sea level rise, to designing ocean debris removal systems, the microsite maps each project to next-generation science standards.
Daily Overview has been posting images of Earth collected by DigitalGlobe’s remote sensing satellites. Its first book, Overview: A New Perspective of Earth, comprises two hundred images of recreational areas from beaches to stadiums that display the shape of fun from space. City Lab reviews the book and interviews Daily Overview founder Benjamin Grant.
America’s Environmental Protection Agency created the Smart City Air Challenge to foster a decentralized approach to air quality management. Two communities will receive grants to develop plans that use low-cost air quality sensors in a dense Internet-of-Things network. (h/t SciStarter)
Cocorahs is a network of volunteer weather spotters across the United States and Canada. Their daily measurements of rain, snow, and other precipitation helps improve weather forecasts, flood and drought risk assessments, and emergency planning. The Edmond Sun wrote about efforts to recruit more volunteers in Oklahoma.
Exploring the Solar System
Citizen scientists with Planet Four: Terrains have mapped spiders in 20 regions around the Martian south pole. “Without the efforts of the public,” explained planetary scientist Meg Schwamb in the press release, “we wouldn't be able to see how these regions evolve over the spring and summer compared with other regions.”
Exploring Deep Space
A radio astronomy crowdfunding project is almost ready to begin its observations. In 1977 an Australian radio observatory recorded a strong signal in the constellation Sagittarius. Scientists determined that it was not a terrestrial source or a satellite, but they never detected it again. Ever since people have speculated that the signal came from another civilization. Astronomer Antonio Paris of Florida's Saint Petersburg College proposed a much closer source - that the signal came from the cloud of hydrogen surrounding a comet. Earlier this year Paris launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise the money he needed to test his theory. The Wow Signal Experiment raised $20,000. Six months later Paris is near completion of his observatory and will begin observations next year.
Three crowdsourced citizen science projects on the Zooniverse network released news last week:
- Disk Detective published its second paper (arXiv: 1610.05293). The project asks volunteers to identify planetary disks the clouds of dust, gas, and rock spiraling around a newly-formed star in data from space telescopes. The new paper describes a planetary disk surrounding an M-class dwarf star. The Disk Detectives blog and the Nasa press release elaborated on the eight citizen scientists who collected additional data to support the research.
- Supernova Hunters sent an email update to its participants. Over the course of a few weeks they discovered forty candidate supernovae.
- The Milky Way Project highlighted a strange dark nebula. Volunteer Zucco66 posted the image in the project’s forum. Other citizen scientists jumped in to the conversation and did their own research. They quickly found the “coffee-ring nebula” in other telescope archives, proving that it was not an image-processing artifact. Now the Milky Way Project’s scientists are taking a closer look.
The European Space Agency’s Gaia mission will create the largest, most accurate stellar atlas of the Milky Way. It will observer more than one billion stars in our galaxy around seventy times over the course of five years. Its first data release included data from the mission’s first eighteen months. Amateur astronomers have already taken advantage of the Gaia data:
- Within a week of the release, an amateur astronomer used the Gaia catalog to explore the asteroid belt. Graeme McKay observes occultations, the shadows created when Solar System objects pass between Earth and a star. When astronomers measure the time it takes for the shadow to pass, they can calculate the object’s size and shape. McKay used the Gaia data to observe the Main Belt Asteroid 671 Carnegia.
- Amateur astronomer Charlie Hoey used his coding skills to create a visualization of the Gaia atlas for VR goggles, Torrent Freak reported. They focused on Hoey’s use of WebTorrent to host and distribute the data. Hoey wrote a more detailed explanation on Medium in which he explains how he processed the data.
Outreach, Tourism, and Other News
The 2017 solar eclipse is spurring tourism in Idaho. Even though many hotels are full, parks and isolated country roads offer excellent viewing options. (Idaho Statesman).
Two schools in northeastern England sent weather balloons into the stratosphere to enhance their students science and mathematics education. Sirius Academy West launched their balloon from Hull (Hull Daily Mail). Keelman’s Way School, a state-of-the-art center for students with special needs, sent their balloon soaring about the river Tyne (Shields Gazette).