Amateur Space Weekly - February 27

Alabama’s teen rocketeers, student science projects reach space, and catching fish pirates using spy satellites. 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

Rockets launching at last summer's Team America Rocketry Challenge. Credit: TARC

The student rocketry season is underway. Across the United States teenagers are conducting test launches of their rocket designs in preparation for the Team America Rocketry Challenge. The annual contest gets thousands of kids to apply their science and math knowledge to the problem of launching a rocket. The University of Northern Alabama will host a rocketry competition to support local TARC entries, the Times Daily reported.

Amateurs in Space

High schools United with Nasa for the Creation of Hardware (Hunch) fosters 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 Olean Times Herald spoke with students at an upstate New York high school who watched SpaceX launch their storage locker into orbit. Local politicians watched along with them and praised their efforts.

Last week’s launch of the space station cargo mission spawned several articles about students whose science projects were on board. The students are part of the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program helps communities across the United States and Canada send middle and high school research projects to the International Space Station. Here is a recap of the science these kids will conduct: 

Exploring Earth

Fish pirates do the equivalent of money laundering by handing their illegal catch to "reefers". These refrigerated ships mix the catch with fish caught legally so the cannot be traced. Credit: Digital Globe

Activists are using satellite data to spot fishing boats engaged in illegal fishing. Ships carry an Automated Identification System (AIS) beacon which can send distress calls in an emergency. It is so useful that ships carry the beacon even when their crew is doing something not quite on the up-and-up. They just turn the beacon off thinking that nobody can see them. SkyTruth and Global Fishing Watch developed an artificial intelligence algorithm that spots AIS beacons disappearing at sea. It then pings the server at DigitalGlobe for the latest high resolution satellite image at those coordinates. 

A new report from the two organizations identifies more than 86,000 examples of transshipment where fishing boats consolidate their illegal catches. Another group, Oceana, used the data that highlights transshipment’s role in human trafficking and slavery. Check out this story from Ars Technica to learn more about the damage illegal fishing causes.

Outreach, Tourism, and Other News

Members of the Association of Bangalore Amateur Astronomers hosted a night of public stargazing, the Bangalore Mirror wrote.

A new preprint describes the important role robotic telescopes play in science education (arXiv: 1702.04835). Scientists at the Las Cumbres Observatory (a robotic telescope network) wrote the paper as a review of efforts to integrate astronomy into the classroom. The greatest challenge teachers face is the disconnect between the school day and when the stars are visible. Remotely operated telescopes on the other side of the world, let students conduct observations during class time. With the right training for teachers, the students can even conduct scientific research.