Amateur Space Weekly - July 12

Amateurs make Neptune research possible, humanitarian aid from space, and kids dropping eggs from the stratosphere… for science.

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.

  • Featured News: NewSpace vaporware, Missouri teens are America’s rocket champs, and more
  • Space Makers: Dropping eggs from the edge of space; ham radio tests satellite constellations.
  • Amateurs in Space: Ardusat’s international growth; Ohio teens build Nasa hardware; Maine teacher’s inspiration to do zero-g science in the classroom.
  • Exploring Earth: Using space images for humanitarian relief.
  • Exploring the Solar System: Amateurs make Neptune research possible; citizen scientists search for worlds beyond Neptune.
  • Exploring Deep Space: Amateur discovers variable star from backyard observatory
  • Outreach, Tourism, and Other News: Near Space tourism hopeful plans to use flight to promote environmental education.


Space Makers

Two of the five Birds CubeSats floating away from the International Space Stations. Amateur radio operators around the world will communicate with the small satellites to help researchers exploring communications constellations.  Credit: Nasa

Two of the five Birds CubeSats floating away from the International Space Stations. Amateur radio operators around the world will communicate with the small satellites to help researchers exploring communications constellations. Credit: Nasa

Astronauts released five amateur radio CubeSats from the International Space Station, reported Southgate Amateur Radio News. The satellites are part of a Japanese-led experiment in communication constellations. To get the data they need, the scientists have asked the world’s amateur radio community to upload and download messages. Amsat UK reported that the project is a collaboration between universities in Japan, Mongolia, Nigeria, Ghana, and Bangladesh.

A middle school in Tacoma, Washington, took egg drop contests to a new level, the Tacoma News Tribune reports. Their weather balloon carried the raw egg more than 96,000 feet into the stratosphere. A parachute and protective container kept the egg intact after its dramatic fall from the edge of space.

Amateurs in Space

This is an Ardusat Demosat. It uses the same hardware as the company's satellites orbiting Earth. Kids write code to control the sensors and then test their programs before uploading the code into space. Credit: Ardusat

Ardusat is a space education non-profit. It uses small satellites to encourage primary and secondary school students to study the sciences. The kids learn how to program the satellites to gather data from orbit. Then they analyze the data they collected about the space environment and the planet below. In an interview with Utah Policy, Ardusat founder Sunny Washington explained that Ardusat’s international growth is so fast about 97% of its customers are outside the United States.

Ohio teenagers are spending the summer building replacement hardware for the International Space Station, News5 Cleveland reports. They are assembling storage lockers built by fellow students during the school year. At some point this year Nasa will load the lockers with supplies for shipment to orbit. This amazing opportunity is made possible by the High schools United with Nasa for the Creation of Hardware (Hunch) program. Hunch is an effort by Nasa to bring shop classes into the 21st Century. Students learn how to use modern manufacturing tools from computer aided design to 3D printing. At the same time they learn how to hit deadlines while meeting the space agency's exacting standards.

The Press Herald reports on a Maine teacher who hopes to conduct microgravity research with her students. Middle school science teacher Breanne Desmond attended the week-long Honeywell Educators at Space Academy at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. She hopes to use her new skills to develop a zero-gravity experiment that her students can send to the International Space Station.

Exploring Earth

Images of Earth from space can enhance a wide range of humanitarian efforts from analyzing the health of small farms to tracking the displacement of refugees in crisis areas. Credit: Digital Globe

Satellite imagery is revolutionizing humanitarian relief efforts. Rhiannan Price is the head of Global Development for the remote sensing satellite company Digital Globe. She explains in this Devex blog post how humanitarian organizations can enhance their efforts by using images from space.

Exploring the Solar System

OK, I cheated here. Amateur telescopes can't get closeups like this one from Nasa's Voyager spacecraft. But competition for time on professional observatories is so fierce that planetary scientists can't catch fleeting features like Neptune's storms. Credit: Nasa / JPL-Caltech

Amateurs made a new study of storms on Neptune possible, Space reports. On any given night, amateur astronomers around the world are looking at the night sky. Some of them have telescopes big enough to make a planet as far away as Neptune appear as more than a faint blue dot. And some of those amateurs take pictures for science. In this case, the amateur efforts helped professional scientists time their own observations. You can read the article for interviews and a description of the research. Unfortunately, the paper itself is locked behind a paywall at the journal Icarus (DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2017.06.009)

The Backyard Worlds citizen science project hopes to find evidence of a Neptune-sized planet out beyond the orbit of Pluto. The project’s participants are discovering other things along the way thanks to the power of crowdsourced science. This includes asteroids and Kuiper Belt Objects in our own Solar System as well as brown dwarf stars drifting through our part of the Milky Way. The project’s scientists just posted a detailed guide to spotting asteroids and rogue stars. With 90% of the data still unexamined, there is plenty of opportunity to make discoveries of your own.

Exploring Deep Space

An amateur astronomer discovered a previously unknown variable star, the Daily Courier. Arizona retiree Gary Frey collected the data from his backyard observatory and the professional community confirmed his discovery. This is the latest example of how amateurs still have a role to play in astronomy. Billions of dollars are spent on mountaintop observatories and space telescopes. But the Universe is just too big - and research budgets too small - for professional astronomers to see everything. That means with patience skilled amateurs can make their own small contributions to science.

Outreach, Tourism, and Other News

World View plans to carry half a dozen tourists into the stratosphere. They will ride in a pressurized capsule suspended from a parachute suspended from a giant balloon. After a few hours floating at the edge of space... the balloon pops. Eventually the atmosphere gets thick enough for the parachutes to work and the tourists land safely. Credit: World View

An aspiring Near Space tourist spoke with the Lead Chronicle. Amanda Blount is an Army veteran, a writer, and environmentalist. She has also paid a deposit on a high altitude balloon flight where she hopes to promote environmental education. That flight would be made possible by World View Enterprises. It made a splash several years ago when it carried a Google executive on a record breaking balloon ride into the stratosphere. (He parachuted back.) The company plans to carry tourists within a pressurized capsule to the edge of space. Thirty kilometers above the Earth’s surface - and above 99% of Earth’s atmosphere - the sky is pitch black and a thin blue ribbon stretches across the horizon. After the balloon pops, the capsule will parachute to a safe landing. The company initially planned to start service in 2016 and then in 2017. Its latest target is 2018.