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

NASA Administrator Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden and Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) recently toured the maker-technology lab at NASA Ames Research Center. NBC Bay Area reports.

Written by Astro1 on May 28th, 2013 , Electronics, Nanosatellites

Scientists have started searching for Dyson spheres, artificial constructs where a star is entirely surrounded by a swarm of facilities or habitats, utilizing all available solar energy.

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Written by Astro1 on May 27th, 2013 , Astrobiology, Astronomy

The failure of multiple experiments on the Russian Bion M biosatellite mission shows the limitations of automation.

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Written by Astro1 on May 21st, 2013 , Astrobiology, Space Policy and Management Tags:

NASA PhoneSat 1U CubeSat nanaosatellite based on smartphone technology

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.

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Written by Astro1 on April 23rd, 2013 , Nanosatellites

Arduino-compatible Alamode board for Raspberry Pi single-board microcomputer

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.

Written by Astro1 on April 22nd, 2013 , Electronics

Beagle Bone Black single-board open-source single-board microcomputer

“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.]

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Written by Astro1 on April 22nd, 2013 , Electronics

NASA robonaut (R2) robot for International Space Station (ISS)

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.

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Written by Astro1 on April 9th, 2013 , Robotics

Protein crystals from NASA microgravity experiments

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space has issued the following press release.

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Written by Astro1 on March 14th, 2013 , Astrobiology

Next Generation Beaglebone
(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.

Written by Astro1 on March 11th, 2013 , Electronics Tags:

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Interplanetary NanoSpacecraft Pathfinder In Relevant Environment (INSPIRE) interplanetary CubeSat

The NASA CubeSat Launch Initiative has selected more than two dozen satellites, including JPL’s Interplanetary NanoSpacecraft Pathfinder In Relevant Environment (INSPIRE), for launch in 2014-2016.

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Written by Astro1 on February 27th, 2013 , Nanosatellites

Ocean Lab instrumentation aboard Royale Carribean Explorer of the Seas

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.

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Written by Astro1 on February 26th, 2013 , Citizen Science (General)

NASA astronaut Don Petit performs a number of microgravity science experiments with improvised materials aboard the International Space Station. We hope this video will inspire you to answer our Call For Experiments to fly aboard the XCOR Lynx spacecraft.

Written by Astro1 on February 18th, 2013 , Microgravity Tags:

Aboard the International Space Station, Don Petit uses knitting needles to demonstrate the effect of static electricity on water droplets in microgravity.

Written by Astro1 on February 4th, 2013 , Microgravity Tags:

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.

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Written by Astro1 on February 4th, 2013 , Microgravity Tags:

The Moon, photographed from Space Shuttle Columbia on STS-107

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:

Simulated Moon illusion

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Written by Astro1 on February 2nd, 2013 , Astronomy, Citizen Exploration

Another science experiment from NASA astronaut Don Petit, which could serve as a starting point for developing a suborbital experiment.

Written by Astro1 on January 31st, 2013 , Microgravity

Another one of Don Petit’s Saturday Morning Science experiments. We hope this videos provide inspiration for experiments you would like to fly on our suborbital flights.

Written by Astro1 on January 29th, 2013 , Microgravity Tags:

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.

Information on Linux compatibility for these microscopes is hard to come by. Fortunately, Adafruit sells a USB microscope which they have worked out the Linux compatibility for.

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.

Written by Astro1 on January 29th, 2013 , Microgravity Tags:

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.

Written by Astro1 on January 29th, 2013 , Microgravity Tags:

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.

Written by Astro1 on January 28th, 2013 , Astronomy, Planetary Defense