Orbital Sciences successfully launched its Antares rocket on Sunday, achieving another milestone for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. Future flights of the Antares will carry Orbital’s Antares space tug, which is intended to service the International Space Station. Overlooked by most of the news reports are four small satellites which Antares carried as secondary payloads.
Alamode is a $50 Arduino-compatible add-on board for the Raspberry Pi single-board microcomputer. Alamode connects to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins and is compatible with all Arduino shields and libraries.
Developers can connect a Raspberry Pi to an Arduino, to take advantage of the Arduino’s analog connectivity and add-on boards, but Alamode provides a neater solution. Alamode may be appealing to developers who are familiar with the Raspberry Pi platform, but the new BeagleBone Black provides similar capabilities at lower cost. The combination of a Raspberry Pi Model B and Alamode costs a total of $85, while BeagleBone Black combines the capabilities into a single board for $45. Still, it is good to have so many options for hardware development. We hope that many of these options will be tried out by citizen scientists who respond to our Call For Experiments.
“We can rebuild it. We have the technology. We can make it better, strong, faster… cheaper than it was before.”
The next-generation BeagleBone, known as the BeagleBone Black, has been released with a selling price of $45. The good news is, Newark Element 14 informed us that they received their first shipment this morning. The bad news is, they’re already sold out.
[Update: We've managed to obtain a sample for you to play with at our Space Hacker Workshop in Silicon Valley on May 4-5.]
NASA and TopCoder have teamed up to create the Robonaut Challenge. The competition, which runs until 9:00 am EDT on April 22, challenges programmers to train NASA’s Robonaut android to interact with input devices used by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space has issued the following press release.
(Austin, TX) Texas Instruments is previewing a prototype of the Next Generation Beaglebone here at South By Southwest. Faster than the first-gen Beaglebone, with more memory, but also significantly cheaper, the Next Generation Beaglebone hits the streets in April. TI hasn’t revealed pricing yet, but a TI employee hinting it would be “about half” the price of the first-gen board. [Update: The next-generation BeagleBone, now known as BeagleBone Black, has been released.]
TI employees describe the Beaglebone as “a cross between Arduino and Raspberry Pi.” If you don’t speak “embedded systems,” Arduino is a popular open-source microcontroller board to which you can connect a nearly endless assortment of sensors, motors, and effectors; Raspberry Pi is a low-cost, credit-card-sized single-board Linux microcomputer.
The takeaway message is that Beaglebone offers the powerful of a Raspberry Pi with the low-level connectivity of an Arduino. With a 720-MHz superscalar ARM Cortex-A8 processor and 3D graphics accelerator, the first-generation Beaglebone is already faster than Raspberry Pi. It’s popularity has suffered, however, due to the relatively high price ($89 versus $39 for Raspberry Pi Model B).
Raspberry Pi isn’t standing still, however. The stripped-down Raspberry Pi Model A recently went on sale in Europe and will soon be available in the US at a price of $25. So, if you’re responding to our Call for Experiments and need a low-power single-board Linux computer, there are multiple low-cost options. Many of this options will be covered at our Space Hacker Workshop in Silicon Valley on May 4-5.
Matt Richardson has posted a video on the Next Generation Beagleboard.
Reusable suborbital vehicles may revolutionize scientific research with frequent access to space. The potential partnership between commercial industry and space science is similar to a partnership which has benefitted ocean science for the past several years.
Aboard the International Space Station, Don Petit uses knitting needles to demonstrate the effect of static electricity on water droplets in microgravity.
The following video shows a simple combustion experiment, the development of a candle flame in microgravity, aboard the Russian Mir space station.
The following video from NASA Glenn Research Center explains the phenomenon seen in this experiment and the difference between candle flames in one gravity and microgravity.
The photo above shows a sight that can only be seen from space: The Moon against a black sky, with the Earth in daylight. Fewer than .00001% of the world’s population have had the opportunity to see this sight. That number will increase dramatically in the next few years, when suborbital spaceflight becomes commercially available.
At first glance, the Moon appears oddly dark. We think of the Moon as being quite bright, almost pure white. That’s because we’re used to viewing the Moon at night when our eyes are dark adapted. Of course, the Moon isn’t really white, or light in color, at all. The observations and photos taken by the Apollo astronauts, the samples they brought back, all prove that. Viewed alongside the oceans and clouds of Earth, the Moon shows its true color in this photograph.
The Moon also appears unusually small in this photo. That is due to the well-known Moon illusion, or rather the lack of a Moon illusion. When we observe the Moon in the night sky, our brains trick us into seeing the Moon as larger than it really is. That doesn’t happen when you look at a photograph of the Moon. The photo above is optically accurate, but the photo below has been altered to show the scene as you might actually perceive it from space, due to the Moon illusion:
In this 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.
Once again, this is an experiment that could be replicated on a suborbital flight. A possible variation on this experiment would be to substitute another type of liquid in place of water.
The following videos show a similar, Earth-bound experiment using a non-Newtonian fluid (a mixture of cornstarch and water). This mixture displays a property called sheer thickening. Don Petit did not have cornstarch aboard the International Space Station, so this was not an option available to him, but it’s something that could be done by a citizen scientist on one of our flight opportunities:
Another science experiment from NASA astronaut Don Petit, which could serve as a starting point for developing a suborbital experiment.
A microscope is a potentially useful piece of hardware for microgravity experiments. There’s a wide range of small USB microscopes on the market, at price points from under $100 to several hundred dollars. Unfortunately, these microscopes are generally designed to use a Windows or Macintosh computer for data capture, which is a problem for our purposes.
Linux compatibility means the microscope could be used with a small single-board Linux computer such as the $40 Raspberry Pi or the slightly more expensive but more powerful BeagleBone, either of which will fit within the CubeSat form factor.
The Adafruit USB microscope sells for $80, so it’s not a high-end microscope by any means, but it may be good enough for many purposes. It is probable that other USB microscopes can be made to work with Linux as well. For right now, this is a start.
NASA astronaut Don Petit performs a simple microgravity experiment using Alka Seltzer aboard the International Space Station.
This experiment could easily be duplicated on a suborbital flight. One possible variation on the experiment might use dry ice instead of Alka Seltzer as a carbon dioxide source.
On February 15, an asteroid half the size of a football field will fly past Earth, only 17,200 miles above our planet’s surface.
This is the first time an object this large has been seen so close to Earth since NEO sky surveys began in the 1990′s.
Asteroid 2012 DA14 was discovered by amateur astronomers at the La Sagra Observatory in Spain on February 22, 2012. Orbital calculations show there’s no danger of 2012 DA14 actually hitting Earth, but it’s a pity we don’t have a quick-reaction sortie vehicle or tug that could get into position for a close look as it whizzes by. Such a vehicle would have a wide range commercial and military applications; the occassional rare science opportunity like this would be just an added bonus.
The Virtual Telescope Project will be holding a live coverage event starting at 22:00 Universal Time (5:00 PM EST, 2:00 PM PST) on February 15.
This video shows a simple fluid experiment aboard NASA’s DC-9 Weightless Wonder aircraft.
In 1996, fluid mechanics scientist, Dr. Mark Weislogel, performed 50 water-balloon experiments during a four-day flight campaign aboard the DC-9 at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. More information on the experiments is available at http://spaceflightsystems.grc.nasa.gov/WaterBalloon and at http://microgravity.grc.nasa.gov/balloon/HS.HTM.
Although these flights are commonly described as “zero gravity,” that is not strictly accurate. Because of limitations on the precision of the parabolic trajectory, occupants do experience some residual gravity. The preferred term is “microgravity,” although that is not strictly accurate, either.
The residual gravity experienced on the best parabolic flights is typically +/-0.2g. So, technically, these should be called centigravity flights. No one uses that term, though, so don’t do it unless you want to sound like Sheldon on “Big Bang Theory.”
Because they fly above atmospheric disturbances, suborbital spacecraft will be able to achieve microgravity levels that are more than 100 times better.
Here’s another water-balloon video. This one was shot by astronaut Don Petit aboard the International Space Station:
One of the most promising scientific applications for reusable suborbital spacecraft is the study of the upper atmosphere. In recent years, atmospheric researchers have discovered a wide range of electrical phenomena that we previously unsuspected. These have been given exotic names like red sprites, blue jets, blue starters, ELVEs, halos, trolls, and gnomes. There may be others we have not yet discovered. We will learn a lot more when we have an affordable way to access the “ignore-osphere” on a reliable, repeatable basis.
One of the latest additions to this electrical menagerie: NASA has discovered dark lightning.
Today at the 221st American Astronomical Society meeting, the NASA Kepler space-telescope team announced 461 new planet candidates. The total number of planet candidates identified by Kepler now totals 2,740, including 351 Earth-sized candidates:
Four of the potential new planets are less than twice the size of Earth and orbit in their sun’s habitable zone, where liquid water might exist on the surface of a planet.
Due to the growing interest in low-cost interplanetary missions, an Interplanetary Small Satellite Conference has been announced. NASA Chief Technologist Dr. Mason Peck will be featured speaker at the conference, which takes place at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena on June 20-21.
Small satellites are typically defined as those weighing less than 500 kilograms, but conference organizers strongly encourage submitters to focus on satellites under 50 kilograms. Abstract submission is now open now and registration will open soon.
Meanwhile, the Second Interplanetary CubeSat Workshop is still scheduled to take place in Ithaca, NY, on or near the Cornell University campus, on May 28-29. Earlier reports that the Interplanetary Small Satellite Conference replaced the workshop were incorrect.