Amateur Space Weekly - March 13

This picture has nothing to do with amateurs. Just another amazing download from the Hubble Space Telescope. (The pink rings just above the center are the remnants of a supernova spotted in 1987) Credit: Nasa, Esa, R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation), and M. Mutchler and R. Avila (STScI)

Colorado undergrads making satellites, teens cooking dessert for astronauts, and searching for space dust on your roof. 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: Colorado interns get to build satellites, rocketry competition to launch from New Mexico.
  • Amateurs in Space: Israeli programs sends youth science into space, Nasa sources spare parts from high schools, a spacey dessert for astronauts, and student science in zero-g.
  • Exploring Earth: Crowdsourcing weather reports to improve forecasts
  • Exploring the Solar System: Earth needs more Comet Hunters, and finding space dust on rooftops.
  • Exploring Deep Space: Hunt for muons, help map galactic structures.

Space Makers

A Colorado space startup plans to mass-produce satellites with the help of undergraduate students, Wired reports. York Space Systems cut a deal with a local university that will let undergraduate students do their internships and senior design projects at the space company. The hands-on experience doing real work will give the students a leg up on their competition as they enter the job market. Working on an actual satellite - or two hundred satellites - looks a lot more impressive on the resume.

The National Association of Rocketry is a 60 year old society for model rocket hobbyists. Every year it sponsors a national launch competition for rocketeers of all ages - the National Sport Launch. KRWG-TV reposted a press release announcing that the 2017 National Sport Launch will be held May 27-29 (Memorial Day Weekend) in Alamogordo, NM. Besides watching rockets fly into the sky, attendees will get insiders' tours of local astronomy and space history sites - including the launch site of V2 rockets.

Amateurs in Space

A new program will let Israeli schoolkids send science experiments to the International Space Station, the Jerusalem Post reported. Founded in honor of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon after his death on the Space Shuttle Columbia, the Ramon Foundation fosters science and math education among Israeli youth. It has partnered with NanoRacks, the operator of a laboratory on the space station to let kids do real zero-g research.

High Schools United with Nasa to Create Hardware (Hunch) is a program that trains America's teens to use modern manufacturing tools. What's neat about Hunch is the fact these teen makers are not carving ash trays from blocks of wood. They are building storage lockers to send to the International Space Station. The Society of Manufacturing Engineers has partnered with the Hunch program to expand participation among American high schools. The teens learn how to use modern, computer-driven machine tools to meet the space agency's exacting requirements. Once they master the techniques, the students become Nasa contractors and provide it with a steady supply of replacement parts. The Camrillo Acorn attended the welcoming ceremony for the first California high school to join the Hunch program.

The Hunch Culinary Challenge asks teens in culinary programs to prepare a dish that astronauts can eat in space. The food must meet Nasa's nutritional requirements while being zero-g friendly. No crumbs or drips can float into sensitive electronics. A panels of space food experts and astronauts will decide whose dish gets served to astronauts on the International Space Station. The Troy Messenger met with Alabama high school students whose cinnamon raisin brown rice pudding will go to the finals.

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program opened registration for its 12th space mission. More than 140 communities in the US and Canada have given nearly 75,000 students a shot at sending experiments to the International Space Station. So far 153 experiments have reached orbit. Rocket explosions destroyed some projects, but all schools got to try again on a later launch. Communities interested in taking part have until mid-April to contact the SSEP.

Last month SpaceX launched a cargo capsule to the International Space Station with the SSEP’s tenth mission. PBS, America’s public TV network, broadcast a story about New York teens whose research will study microgravity’s effect on phytoplankton photosynthesis. Bethesda Magazine ran a story about two Maryland teens who are studying a bacteria that eats metals. And the Leominster Champion wrote about Massachusetts teens who will study streptococcus mutans’ production of lactic acid in microgravity.

Exploring Earth

America's National Weather Service relies on its 400,000 Skywarn storm spotters to help improve its forecasts and warnings. The beams from weather radar flow straight out from the weather station. Since Earth's surface is curved, those beams get higher off the ground the further they travel. At the edge of the radar's range, meteorologists are seeing weather thousands of feet above the surface. Skywarn trains its members - all of them volunteers - how to identify and report extreme weather. The crowdsourced reports let meteorologists produce more accurate warnings for people on the ground. This report from WFFT speaks with some of the Indiana volunteers who keep their eyes open for thunderstorms and tornadoes.

Another volunteer weather program gives everyday people a chance to improve forecasts. Cocorahs is a network of volunteers across the United States and Canada who use simple gauges to record daily rain and snow fall. Official weather stations are often tens, or even hundreds, of miles apart. But weather can be an extremely local phenomenon. The combined reports from more than twenty thousand Cocorahs volunteers creates a much higher resolution map of precipitation that lets meteorologists create better forecasts. Cocorahs runs a friendly competition among its state organizations for the Cocorahs Cup. Coinciding with the NCAA basketball tournament, state-level organizations engage in a March Madness recruiting drive. Last year Arizona took the title from North Carolina. According to this report from WNCT, North Carolina wants it back.


Exploring the Solar System

Comet Hunters’ science team issued a call for more citizen scientists contributions. They are working on their first peer-reviewed paper and need more data. The project relies on human pattern recognition to spot signs of comets among Main Belt Asteroids.

A Norwegian jazz musician became an amateur scientist when he started hunting for meteorite dust. The Earth receives a steady rain of dust from space. Some of it is left behind by comets during their close approach to the Sun. Some of it is from asteroid impacts over the past four billion years. Scientists long dismissed the idea that you could find meteorite dust in the polluted environments of modern cities. But Jon Larsen persevered and published the results in a peer reviewed journal last year. Although the news originally broke several months ago, the New York Times just interviewed the jazz musician about his space dust discovery. An interesting comment at the end of the piece: Larsen believes schools could do the same thing by collecting dust on school house roofs.

Exploring Deep Space

Brand new citizen science project Muon Hunters hit the 1,000,000 classification milestone within a week. The project relies on citizen scientists to help clean up data from a gamma ray observatory. With accurate measurement of muon strikes on the observatory’s detectors, the scientists can produce better measurements of the gamma ray observations.

Zooniverse launched Galaxy Zoo: 3D. Scientists want to study the three dimensional structure of nearby galaxies. But they need help since the algorithms used to analyze the data does not work well. A post on the Galaxy Zoo blog demonstrates how the algorithm thought a nearby galaxy was one hundred separate galaxies. Citizen scientists are much better at this kind of thing (still!) than artificial intelligence. Their work will help scientists understand how the appearance of galaxies evolves over time.