Amateur Space Weekly - June 27

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.

  • Featured News: Teen rocketeers, an Aussie's DIY satellite, building cubesats in Idaho, and more.
  • Space Makers: South African girls building a cubesat while South African ham operators do the same, Canadian undergrads’ award-winning satellite, Indian undergrads’ underwater robot, Nasa ignores makers in their Maker Faire press release, a Near Space research conference, Alabama advances in rover contest, record-setting weather balloon flight, US schools use rocketry to teach STEM. 
  • Amateurs in Space: High school students build space station parts for Nasa, teens prepare their zero-g research for launch into orbit.
  • Exploring Earth: Human rights groups adopt satellite surveillance, a Noaa smartphone app crowdsources extreme weather data.
  • Exploring the Solar System: Junocam’s first picture of Jupiter, an amateur asteroid hunter, France’s meteor-spotting network, Hubble confirms amateur observations of storm on Neptune, India’s schools join asteroid search.
  • Exploring Deep Space: 30,000 citizen scientists enable Andromeda Galaxy research, Qatar’s exoplanet hunters want to enlist amateur astronomers, an Indian amateur takes up variable star observations.

Featured News:

Space Makers

Teenage girls in South Africa are building a satellite, the Voice of America reports. They are part of the Meta Economic Development Organisation’s Space Programme which hopes to address the imbalance of women in science and engineering careers. The students began with a robotics program. Now they will design a payload for a high-altitude weather balloon flight into the stratosphere. Building on their electronics and coding skills, the girls will design a cubesat which will launch by the end of the year.

South Africa’s amateur satellite organization is accelerating its cubesat program, Southgate Amateur Radio News reports. The Kletskous project will support South Africa’s amateur radio community as well as foster science education. Schools across South Africa are helping to design the satellite’s scientific mission.

Concordia University undergraduate students won the Canadian Satellite Design Competition. They are part of a student-organized group, Space Concordia, that undertakes aerospace projects from rocketry through spacecraft building. Project leader Jan Dee explained his team’s two-year experience to the Urthecast blog.

Indian undergrads compete to demonstrate submarine robot technology for a future Europa mission, NDTV reports. They entered Marine Advanced Technical Education’s 2016 Mate International Competition. The competition was held last weekend at the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory at Nasa’s Johnson Space Center.

Nasa highlighted ways makers take part in the space program. Strangely the press release ignored adult makers. The CubeQuest Challenge, for example, includes several citizen teams. Team Miles, a group organized from the Tampa Hackerspace (I recently interviewed Team Miles founder Wes Faler), won $30,000 awards in each of the first two ground tournaments. Nasa only mentioned the university teams.

Scientists and amateurs who conduct stratospheric research meet in Minnesota. While some of the presentations to be delivered at the Academic High-Altitude Conference focus on the science made possible by high-altitude balloons, many others will explain new techniques for operating balloons at the edge of space.

Teams of university students and amateur roboticists compete in Nasa’s Sample Return Robot Challenge. Their autonomous rovers must traverse a course while collecting simulated geological samples. Nasa hopes the teams will develop innovative techniques that can improve future Mars sample return missions. Tuscaloosa reported on the Alabama undergraduates who advanced to the contest’s second phase. This was Alabama Astrobotics’ first attempt at the Nasa contest - the first time a rookie team advanced to the next phase. At the end of the summer the team’s rover must traverse a larger course and collect more samples.

Stanford undergraduates set record 70-hour flight for a near space balloon, USA Today reports. They are part of the student-run Stanford Student Space Initiative. The ballooning team’s forty-first mission validated the student-designed Valve-Ballast system. By regulating the amount of gas in the balloon’s envelope, the students could use an inexpensive latex weather balloon for their long-duration flight rather than a more expensive Zero Pressure Balloon.

Rocket building is on the agenda for a Wisconsin summer camp, the Leader Telegram reports. There was more to the project than the typical build-a-model rocket project. The students used a wind tunnel at the University of Wisconsin to evaluate their parachute design and used the university’s Fab Lab to build their rockets.

An Indiana middle school teacher incorporates hands-on rocketry into science and math into her curriculum, the Elkhart Truth reports.

A New York middle school plans to launch a model rocket… from the stratosphere, the Olean Times Herald reports. The students will attach the rocket and its launcher to a high-altitude balloon that will rise thirty kilometers into the stratosphere. At its peak a radio signal will trigger the rocket, sending it several kilometers higher.

Amateurs in Space

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. But this isn't your grandfather's shop class. 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. Morris County, New Jersey, announced that twenty high school students successfully built a storage locker for the International Space Station. The students enrolled in their school district’s Engineering Design and Advanced Manufacturing program. After a morning attending traditional high school classes, the students worked in a local college’s machine lab. “Everyone learned how to use the machines, then we were broken out into manufacturing and quality control,” explained Espinosa one of the two female students in the program. “My role was to inspect and check the measurements to make sure they were all within tolerance, then document that on a paper that was sent to NASA.” 

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program gives teenagers in the United States and its International Space Station partner countries a chance to conduct real science in orbit. WUSA reports on a Maryland seventh grader’s probiotic research which will be among the projects launching next month on SSEP’s eighth mission. Two student teams have had their projects chosen for SSEP’s tenth mission into orbit in the Fall. A team of New Jersey seventh graders will send butterfly chrysalis into orbit to see what effect microgravity has on this stage of the insects’ development, NJdotcom reports. A team of Arkansas ninth graders will study the effect of microgravity on polymer formation, KATV reports.

Exploring Earth

The Brookings Institute wrote about human rights groups’ adoption of satellite surveillance. Images from space let the groups document activities like atrocities and the illegal harvesting of resources. The article points out that this raises ethical and operational challenges for many human rights groups.

A smartphone app lets the National Weather Service crowdsource severe weather data, the Brainerd Dispatch reports. The mPing app lets people report precipitation, dust storms, flooding and other extreme weather events. The project has collected more than one million reports since its launch.

Exploring the Solar System

A first look at Jupiter from Nasa's Juno spacecraft. The Junocam is part of a collaboration between amateur astronomers and planetary scientists to study Jupiter's atmosphere. Credit: Nasa/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Nasa’s Juno team released the spacecraft’s latest image of Jupiter taken by the Junocam. The Juno mission is one of Nasa’s strongly integrates amateur astronomy, citizen science, and undergraduate education. Amateur astronomers and the general public will help the Junocam science team target atmospheric features to study during Juno’s close-approaches. Colorado University Boulder undergraduates are part of the team that will study aurora in Jupiter’s magnetosphere

An amateur astronomer discovered more than 300 asteroids from his backyard observatory, Popular Science reports. 

Sky & Telescope wrote about France’s meteor spotting network. With one hundred fisheye video cameras placed across France, Fripon is one of the densest video meteor networks in the world. Scientists use the videos to triangulate the trajectory of meteors in hopes of recovering meteorites. The programs organizers hope that citizen scientist engagement will let them recover meteorites within 24 hours of their impact.

A Canadian retiree created a scale model of the Solar System in his farm field, the CBC reports.

Scientists using data from the Hubble Space Telescope confirmed a new dark vortex on Neptune. Astronomers at Spain’s Calar Alto observatory first identified an associated bright spot last July. Within a week amateur observers confirmed the bright spot’s presence. Throughout the year professional and amateur astronomers conducted an observing campaign. The Hubble observations took advantage of the telescope’s orbital vantage point to collect data at the blue edge of the spectrum that does not reach Earth’s surface.

Students across India are searching for asteroids, India Express reports. Forty-five Indian schools have joined the International Astronomical Search Collaboration. The program distributes images from professional observatories for students to analyze. The students’ observations are filed with the Minor Planet Center, astronomy’s official repository for asteroid data. If the asteroid has never been seen before, then the students will be credited as discoverers.

Exploring Deep Space

Scientists spent four years collecting images of Andromeda with the Hubble Space Telescope. Thirty thousand citizen scientists discovered nearly three thousand star clusters within the data. Credit: Nasa/ESA/J. Dalcanton, B.F. Williams, and L.C. Johnson (University of Washington)/the PHAT team/R. Gendler

A new study of star clusters is based on contributions of about thirty thousand citizen scientists (arXiv: 1606.05349). The Andromeda Project asked people to map star clusters they spotted in images from the Panchromatic Hubble Andromeda Treasury, a four-year project that used the Hubble Space Telescope to record one third of Andromeda’s spiral arms. The thirty thousand volunteers identified more than 2,700 star clusters which this paper’s scientists used to study formation efficiency - how much of the original gas cloud became stars.

Radio Galaxy Zoo scientists wrote about the galaxy cluster named after two of the project’s citizen scientists.

Qatari astronomers want to help amateur exoplanet hunters, The Peninsula reports. A team of scientists led by Dr Khalid A Al Subai of the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute discovered three exoplanets recently. Subai told The Peninsula that he hopes to simplify his team’s software and techniques for amateur use.

An Indian amateur astronomer has been recognized for his variable star research, the Pune Mirror reports. Amateur astronomer Aniruddha Deshpande decided to take action when he learned that the American Association of Variable Star Astronomers considered India part of the “dark longitude” that lack regular observations. Since then Deshpande has collected more than 1,800 observations. The Pune Mirror talks to Deshpande about his passion for astronomy and his role in Pune’s amateur community.