Amateur Space Weekly - December 12

Note: Amateur Space Weekly will go on hiatus until after the holidays.

Texas high school is a Nasa contractor, Norwegian amateur discovers cosmic dust, and an undergraduate Mars ice mining contest. Every week I recap headlines like these from around the world the feature the growing number of people taking space exploration in their own hands.

  • Space Makers: China and Turkey to launch amateur radio satellites; university contests for CanSats, high performance rockets, and Martian ice mining.
  • Amateurs in Space: Texas high school is a Nasa contractor, New Jersey high schooler to control space robots.
  • Exploring the Solar System: Norwegian amateur finds cosmic dust on European rooftops
  • Exploring Deep Space: South African amateur helps Canadian astrophysicist; volunteer supercomputers search for pulsars and alien civilizations.
  • Outreach, Tourism, and Other News: the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2016, solar eclipse grants, grade school cubesat, and British and Mexican high-altitude balloon flights.

Space Makers

Undergraduate will develop tech for mining ice from beneath the surface of Mars, but it probably won't look like this. Credit: Nasa Langley Advanced Concepts Lab/Analytical Mechanics Associates

Undergraduates will design ice mining technology for Nasa, Colorado Space News reports. Six universities are competing in the Mars Ice Challenge to develop techniques that could extract water from beneath the Martian surface. Patrick Troutman, Human Exploration Architecture Integration lead at NASA Langley, said in a space agency press release “We are thrilled with the creative designs proposed by these eight teams and are excited to see their various methods and approaches in action.”

The Amateur Radio Relay League reports that China and Turkey are each close to launching small satellites with amateur radio transponders. Ham radio operators around the world use these amateur radio satellites to communicate with each other and test their skills. This continues a tradition of amateur satellite making that began in 1962 when a group of off-duty electronic engineers from what would become Silicon Valley sent OSCAR-1 into orbit on a US Air Force rocket launch.

Tarleton University will host the annual CanSat Competition, The Flash Today reported. CanSats are model satellites the size of soda cans which have most of the systems of an actual satellite. Schools and universities use CanSats to give students hands-on experience with a space-related project over the course of a few months. The CanSat competition brings undergraduate students from around the world to Texas where their designs are launched on high performance rockets.

Spaceport America announced that it will host the 2017 Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition. For the past ten years the IREC has inspired undergraduate engineering students by letting them design and launch high performance rockets in competition with other students around the world. Renamed the Spaceport America Cup, the contest will challenge students to launch rockets as high as 30,000 feet above the New Mexican desert. Open viewing areas will let the public watch the competition for the first time.

Amateurs in Space

A Galveston, Texas, high school builds hardware for the International Space Station. The Houston Chronicle reports. Their school is part of a program called Hunch (it's an acronym, don't ask) that lets kids develop skills with modern machine tools and in the process build storage lockers and other parts for use in space.

The annual Zero Robotics tournament gives high school students around the world a chance program robots on the International Space Station. The co-president of New Jersey’s Lawrenceville School describes how his school is preparing to control space robots.


Exploring the Solar System

An amateur scientist and an Imperial College London found particles of comic dust among the sweepings from European rooftops. Jon Larsen developed a technique for combing urban dust for the particles that survive entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Professional researchers limit their searches to the sterile environs of Antarctica where they find ancient cosmic dust particles frozen in ice. Larsen searched thirty tons of dust to discover a few dozen recently arrived particles.

Exploring Deep Space

A South African amateur astronomer explained how amateurs make scientifically valuable observations that professionals can’t in this announcement from the University of Toronto. The pros don't have the budget or time to make a lot of observations over an extended period - the competition for time on professional telescopes is just too intense. Amateurs on the other hand have all the time in the world. Even if they don't have pro-quality equipment they can still make important contributions to science. In this case André van Staden spent fifteen months observing a millisecond pulsar to support Dunlap Institute astrophysicist John Antoniadis’s research. They concluded its unusual behavior is caused by massive starspots (the equivalent of our Sun's sunspots)

40,000 volunteers helped discover a record breaking pulsar, the Albert Einstein Institute announced. They participate in the Einstein@Home distributed computing process by letting their personal computers crunch data from the project’s radio telescope observations. They form a global virtual computer that is faster than all but sixty supercomputers.

More than 20,000 Indians participate in the SETI@Home distributed computing project, the Times of India reports. The volunteers help search for alien civilizations in radio telesopce data.

Outreach, Tourism, and Other News

US Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY) introduced the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2016. It requires government agencies to produce biennial reports on how they support public participation in their activities. With this session of Congress coming to an end it is unlikely to go any further unless Tonko re-introduces it next year.

Other news:

  • Grants will support US solar eclipse outreach and education (AAS).
  • Another elementary school will try to build a CubeSat (Twitter).
  • A British school is developing a high altitude balloon project (Amsat-UK).
  • Mexican high schools sent thirty high altitude balloons into the stratosphere (Hackaday).