Earth's atmosphere as seen from space

The High Altitude Astrobiology Challenge will be featured at the 2014 meeting of the 100 Year Starship Symposium, which takes place in Houston on 18-21 September 2014.

“Searching for Extraterrestrial Life at the Edge of Space” is one of two featured papers that will be presented during the Life Sciences in Space Exploration Track chaired by NASA astronaut Dr. Yvonne Cagle. The paper will be presented by Edward Wright, founder of the United States Rocket Academy and project manager for Citizens in Space.

The High Altitude Astrobiology Challenge seeks to develop a reliable means of collecting microorganisms from the extreme upper atmosphere (altitudes of 100,000 feet and above). Such organisms have been collected by high-altitude balloons, but balloons lack the reliability and controllability of reusable suborbital spacecraft now under development.

The other featured paper will be “When Biology Meets Exobiology,” by David Almandsmith and Dr. Carmen Nevarez of Khotso Consulting.

Symposium registration is now open.

Written by Astro1 on August 2nd, 2014 , Astrobiology, Citizens in Space

James Cameron’s Deep Sea Challenge 3D documentary opens in theaters on Friday, 8 August.

The documentary tells the story of Cameron’s voyage to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot on Earth.

One little-known fact about Cameron’s Deep Challenge project is that two filmmakers died in a helicopter accident during the production — another indicator of the hazards of working at sea. This is comparable to the three astronauts who died during the Apollo program.

Rumor says that James Cameron is one of two citizen explorers who have agreed to pay Space Adventures $150 million apiece for a circumlunar flight on a Russian Soyuz, becoming the first humans to visit the Moon since Apollo 17.

Space Adventures lunar expedition vehicle fires engines on its way to the Moon

Written by Astro1 on August 2nd, 2014 , Citizen Exploration, Oceanography

The following experiments may inspire the creativity of citizen scientists who want to fly experiments in space. Performed aboard the International Space Station, they could easily be replicated aboard a suborbital flight. (We would like to remind everyone that our Call for Experiments is still open.)

In the first video, International Space Station science officer Don Petit uses an inexpensive speaker to demonstrate the effects of acoustical energy on water in a microgravity environment.

A variation on this experiment uses a different type of fluid, which does not behave in a classical “Newtonian” manner. In the following video, Don Petit uses a cornstarch mixture as an example of a non-Newtonian fluid.

Written by Astro1 on July 11th, 2014 , Microgravity Tags:

Artist's conception of Kepler 186-f

Astronomers using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope have discovered the first Earth-size planet orbiting a star in the “habitable zone” — the range of distance from a star where liquid water might pool on the surface of an orbiting planet. The discovery of Kepler-186f confirms that planets the size of Earth exist in the habitable zone of stars other than our sun.

While planets have been found in the habitable zone before, but all were at least 40 percent larger in size than Earth, and understanding their makeup is challenging. Kepler-186f is more reminiscent of Earth, NASA says.

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Written by Astro1 on April 17th, 2014 , Astrobiology, Astronomy, Space Settlement

Jonathan Oxer from Freetronics talks about the Ardusat project and shows his Arduino-based cluster board for running Arduino sketches in space. Recorded at the Melbourne Connected Community Hackerspace.

Written by Astro1 on April 3rd, 2014 , Nanosatellites

A tiny, low-cost weather satellite may point the way toward new, distributed architectures for meteorology.

MicroMAS (Micro-sized Microwave Atmospheric Satellite) combines a 1U (10cm x 10cm x 10cm) microwave radiometer from MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory with a 3-axis-stabilized 2U CubeSat bus.

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Written by Astro1 on March 31st, 2014 , Nanosatellites

Boeing/DARPA ALASA airborne rocket launch concept F-15 Eagle

Boeing has won the contract competition to build DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) launch system.

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Written by Astro1 on March 25th, 2014 , Military Space, Nanosatellites

The SETI Institute, NASA Ames Research Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are teaming up with the National Park Service to present the third annual MarsFest in Death Valley National Park on 28-30 March, 2014.

The free event will include scientist-led field trips to analog sites Mars Hill, Badwater Basin, Ubehebe Volcanic Field, and the Mesquite Sand Dunes, as well as guest lectures at the park’s Furnace Creek Visitor Center.

More information and advance registration are available here.

Written by Astro1 on March 24th, 2014 , Education, Events, Planetary science

Viking image of Mars (composite)

Thierry Montmerle, the General Secretary of the International Astronomical Union is throwing a tantrum over Uwingu’s program to crowd-source informal names for craters on Mars.

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Written by Astro1 on March 11th, 2014 , Planetary science

Asteroid Gaspra

NASA’s Asteroid Data Hunter contest series will offer $35,000 in awards to citizen scientists who develop improved algorithms that can be used to identify asteroids.

This six-month contest series will conducted in partnership with Planetary Resources Inc. The first contest in the series will kick off on March 17. Prior to the kickoff, competitors can create an account on the contest series website and learn more about the rules and different phases of the contest series by going to this website.

Managed by the NASA Tournament Lab, the contest series runs through August. It is the first contest series contributing to the agency’s Asteroid Grand Challenge.

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Written by Astro1 on March 10th, 2014 , Astronomy, Planetary Resources

"Red Dragon" Mars Sample-Return Mission Architecture

NASA could launch a Mars sample-return mission in 2022 without breaking the bank, according to an internal study conducted at NASA Ames Research Center. The mission would use a slightly modified version of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, called Red Dragon.

Red Dragon could land two tons (twice the weight of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity) on the Martian surface. The payload would include a new Mars Ascent Vehicle, Earth Return Vehicle, and equipment to drill two meters into the Martian surface.

The NASA Ames study team presented a paper at the IEEE Aerospace Conference, which took place this week in Montana. Leonard David has details on Space.com.

Written by Astro1 on March 8th, 2014 , Planetary science, SpaceX

Introduction

This report describes the development and initial testing of a small vacuum-chamber test facility. This facility was developing by Citizens in Space under contract to SpaceGAMBIT, with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The goal was to demonstrate the construction of a low-cost vacuum-chamber facility for small payloads, which is suitable for use in a HackerSpace or similar setting. The facility will also be used to test citizen-science payloads that are to fly with Citizens in Space.

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Written by Astro1 on February 20th, 2014 , Citizen Science (General)

Astrobotic rover competing for Google Lunar X-Prize

The Google Lunar X-Prize has announced new Milestone Prizes, which will provide technological stepping stones (and near-term financial help) for teams that are competing for the $30 million grand prize.

Five teams have been selected to compete as finalists for the Milestone Prizes, which have a total purse of $6 million to be awarded this year.

Winning the $30-million Google Lunar X-Prize requires landing a probe on the surface of the Moon, moving at least 500 meters on the surface, and sending back specified data. Teams have been struggling to come up with funding for the competition, though. As a result, the X-Prize Foundation has been tweaking the rules to help competitors along.

The new Milestone Prizes and selected teams are:

Multiple teams can win each Milestone Prize.

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Written by Astro1 on February 19th, 2014 , Lunar Science

Skybox Imaging has released the world’s first high-resolution, high-definition videos of Earth taken by a commercial remote sensing satellite. Taken by SkySat-1, the first a planned constellation of 24 satellites, the video clips (have not yet been calibrated or tuned) show high-resolution views of Tokyo, Bangkok, Baltimore, Las Vegas, and Aleppo, Syria.

SkySat-1 can capture video clips up to 90 seconds long at 30 frames per second. The resolution is high enough to view objects like shipping containers that affect the global economy. (In these clips, you can make out automobiles moving along the highways.)

SkySat-1 is capable of sub-meter native color and near-infrared imagery. Other unique capabilities based on Skybox’s proprietary technologies will be announced in the near future. But the most revolutionary aspect is the cost, according to Skybox CEO Tom Ingersoll.

“SkySat-1 was built and launched for more than an order of magnitude less cost than traditional sub-meter imaging satellites,” Ingersoll said. “This extremely high performance satellite is made possible by proprietary technologies developed by Skybox, including the integrated satellite and imaging systems designs, which enable Skybox to launch a constellation of satellites that can provide imagery timeliness, quality and dependability that was never before possible.”

Skybox foresees numerous business applications for satellite imagery dynamic satellite video, including supply-chain and industrial-plant monitoring, maritime awareness, and environmental/humanitarian relief.

Skybox has raised $91 million from venture-capital firms Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Canaan Partners and Norwest Venture Partners. It is preparing to launch SkySat-2 in early 2014.

Written by Astro1 on December 27th, 2013 , Nanosatellites, Skybox Imaging

NASA’s Centennial Challenges prize program is seeking new ideas for prizes and new partner organizations. The question remains whether Congress provide allocate money for new challenges. Funding has been hit or miss (mostly miss) for the last decade.

Current information about Centennial Challenges is available at www.nasa.gov/challenges. The new Notice of Opportunity is available here.

Written by Astro1 on December 21st, 2013 , Citizen Science (General), Innovation

Professor Freeman Dyson is encouraging amateur astronomers to look for exoplanets circling white dwarf stars. In this video, Dyson explains why such systems are appropriate targets for amateurs.

Written by Astro1 on December 21st, 2013 , Astronomy

Maybe it was related to the first succcessful free flight of NASA’s Morpheus lander or the launch of China’s Chang’e 3 lunar probe. For whatever reason, there seems to be a pre-Christmas rush on planetary press conferences and announcements. In the last six days, three separate projects have revealed details of their plans for robotic missions to the Moon and Mars.

Moon Express

Last Thursday, Moon Express unveiled its MX-1 lunar-lander design in front of 10,000 people at the closing session of Autodesk University in Las Vegas.

Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander

Moon Express, which is competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize, said the lander will use hydrogen peroxide and kerosene as propellents. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used, by itself, as a monopropellent. Moon Express noted that hydrogen peroxide can be manufactured from water that is available on the Moon, which it believes “would be a game changer in the economics of lunar resources and solar system exploration.”

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Written by Astro1 on December 10th, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Innovation, Lunar Science, Robotics

The Arduino development team has announced two new boards, which may be of interest to Lynx Cub payload developers.

Intel Galileo Arduino board

The Intel Galileo is the first Arduino board to use an Intel processor. Galileo is based on a 400-MHz Intel Quark SoC X1000 Application Processor, a 32-bit Pentium-class system on a chip with 16 KByte L1 cache and 512 KBytes of embedded SRAM.

The board runs Linux and features a full-sized mini-PCI Express slot, 100Mb Ethernet port, Micro-SD slot, RS-232 serial port, USB Host port, USB Client port, and 8MByte NOR flash memory. It is pin-compatible with Arduino shields designed for the Uno R3 and operating at either 3.3 or 5V.

The Galileo board is 4.2 inches long by 2.8 inches wide, so it will not quite fit into a 1U Cub payload. It will, however, fit nicely into a 2U Cub payload.

Intel plans to donate 50,000 Galileo boards to 1,000 universities over the next 18 months. The board will be available November 29, 2013.

Arduino TRE board

The Arduino TRE uses the 1-GHz Sitara AM335x ARM Cortex-A8 processor from Texas Instruments, which provides up to 100 times the performance of an Arduino Uno or Leonardo.

The Arduino TRE, which was developed in cooperation with the BeagleBoard Foundation, is actually two Arduinos in one: a Sitara-based Linux Arduino and a full AVR-based Arduino which enables the Arduino TRE to use existing Arduino shields. On the Linux side, the TRE can run high-performance desktop applications, processing-intensive algorithms, and high-speed communications. It appears that the TRE will be produced by CircuitCo in Richardson, Texas, which also produces the BeageleBoard and BeagleBone.

The board has an XBee radio socket as well GPIO headers for the ARM processor and Arduino form-factor headers for the AVR processor. Ports include USB (2), micro-USB, Ethernet, HDMI, and Audio In/Out. The board also has XBee radio, GPIO, and Arduino form-factor headers.

The Arduino TRE will be available in spring of 2014.

Pricing for the Arduino TRE and Galileo boards has not been announced.

Written by Astro1 on October 4th, 2013 , Electronics

Generation Orbit small-satellite airborne launch system (GO Launcher)

The NASA Enabling eXploration and Technology (NEXT) program has selected Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. to launch a group of three 3U CubeSats to a 425 km orbit in 2016. Under the $2.1M commercial procurement, NASA will become the inaugural customer for the company’s GOLauncher 2 vehicle, which is currently in development.

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Written by Astro1 on September 30th, 2013 , Commercial Space (General), Nanosatellites

NASA is funding work on a new propulsion system that may enable a 10-kilogram (22-point) CubeSat mission to Europa.

Nathan Jarred of the Universities Space Research Association has received a $100,000 Phase I award from the NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts to study a dual-mode propulsion concept that pairs electric and thermal propulsion.

High-efficiency electric propulsion would be used for interplanetary maneuvers, with higher-thrust thermal propulsion reserved for quick Earth orbit escape, drastic orbital maneuvering and orbital insertion at the destination.

Jarred will use the NIAC money to design and optimize the various components of the overall system. He will also design an experiment to evaluate propellant performance within the thermal mode using existing hardware at the Center for Space Nuclear Research.

CubeSat technologies may be the antidote to the growing cost of NASA interplanetary missions. The interplanetary CubeSat missions currently under study are generally limited to the inner solar system, however, due to the propulsion problem. New concepts like this one could change that.

Dual-mode electric-thermal propulsion system for interplanetary CubeSat missions

Written by Astro1 on August 31st, 2013 , Innovation, Nanosatellites

A group of students at National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan are developing a CubeSat mission to study radiation hazards on an Earth-Mars trajectory for future human spaceflight. Possible secondary missions include demonstrating an Earth-Mars free-return trajectory, contributing to the search for Near Earth Objects, and imaging the host mission with which the CubeSat will be hitching a ride. A paper on the project is available here.

Written by Astro1 on August 22nd, 2013 , Nanosatellites

SpaceGAMBIT, a program of Maui Makers LLC in collaboration with space enthusiasts and citizen scientists around the world, has announced its first round of funded projects.

In Fall 2012, SpaceGAMBIT received a two-year, $500,000 grant from DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, to fund work on open-source projects that help build technology for a space-faring civilization. In Spring 2013, SpaceGAMBIT issued its first call for proposals. Nearly 50 proposals were received, from which SpaceGAMBIT selected ten projects for funding.

One of the selected projects was the Space Hacker Workshop sponsored by Citizens in Space.

The other selected projects are:

  • BioMONSTAAAR — an automated photobioreactor
  • Hackerspace Earthship — a closed-cycle habitat for human habitation
  • Hacker Scouts Space Badge — a series of space related activities and badges for kids
  • Make-a-Space — a detailed project plan and guidelines to create makerspaces
  • Open Bioreactor — a cheap, easy-to-build bioreactor
  • PSWARM — 3D printing vacuum-compatible planetary-rover components
  • SatStatSim — an educational simulation of satellites and small space stations
  • SilSuit — a prototype partial space suit
  • SPEDCAP – documenting and promoting the DIY space revolution

SpaceGAMBIT is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the US Government. However, SpaceGAMBIT and selected projects do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Government, and no official endorsement should be inferred.

Written by Astro1 on July 24th, 2013 , Citizen Science (General)

Planet Labs, a startup company founded by NASA engineers who worked on the PhoneSat project, has announced plans to launch a flock of 28 nanosatellites for remote sensing.

Planet Labs Dove-1 remote-sensing satellite test image

Flock 1 will be launched as a secondary payload on an Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares mission headed for the International Space Station in 2014. Planet Labs (formerly known as Cosmogia) successfully launched two test satellites, Dove-1 and Dove-2, on an Antares test flight and a Soyuz mission in April 2013.

Like NASA’s PhoneSats, Planet Labs’ Dove satellites are built from low-cost non-traditional aerospace parts. Operating a large number of very-low-cost satellites will allow Planet Labs to provide remote-sensing data with unique coverage and cadence. Instead of the traditional model of point-and-shoot imaging with targets chosen by high-paying customers, Planet Labs will have an always-on imaging platform with broad coverage and frequently updated imagery. The CubeSat satellites will be placed into 400-kilometer circular orbits, where they will provide 3-5 meter resolution imaging of the Earth from the equator to 52 degrees (approximately the latitude of London, England or the Falkland Islands).

The scale of the imaging does not compromise privacy but allows monitoring of deforestation, agricultural yields, and natural disasters. The company intends to use an open-data model so that everyone from ecologists to citizen journalists will be able to track changes on the planet.

Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures said, “Planet Labs will create an entirely new data set, with both humanitarian and commercial value. We’ve become used to having imagery of the entire Earth. What we haven’t yet understood is how transformative it will be when that imagery is regularly and frequently updated.”

O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures is one of several venture-capital firms that recently invested $13 million in Planet Labs.

Another investor is Draper Fisher Jurvetson, which also invested in Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX). Steve Jurvetson, managing director of DFJ said, “We’re seeing unprecedented innovation in the space industry, starting with SpaceX lowering the cost of access, and now with Planet Labs revolutionizing the satellite segment.” Jurvetson also serves on Planet Labs’ board of directors.

Written by Astro1 on June 27th, 2013 , Nanosatellites, Planet Labs

Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference

The 2013 meeting of the Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference, which concluded on Wednesday, showed signs that the conference is maturing.

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Written by Astro1 on June 6th, 2013 , Citizen Science (General), Events