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:

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 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:

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:

High-speed video (also known as super-slow motion) can be a valuable tool for recording experiment results. A number of companies manufacture high-speed cameras for scientific and industrial purposes. If you’re building an experiment to fly with Citizens in Space, you probably won’t be running out to buy one of those cameras, though. First, the price is a deterrent, with cameras selling for $25,000 and up. Then, there’s the matter of size. These cameras are fine for laboratory use but too large for the 1U and 2U CubeSat payload volumes we are offering.

Fortunately, consumer electronics have come to the rescue. High-speed video features are now incorporated into a number of small, low-cost consumer cameras. These consumer cameras do not achieve the extremely high frame rates achieved by professional high-speed cameras (thousands or even millions of frames per second), but their small size and low cost makes them well suited for our purposes. And in addition to high-speed video, these consumer cameras offer another useful feature – the ability to shoot high-resolution still images in rapid bursts.

The Point-and-Shoot Option: Casio Exilim

Casio was the first company to add high-speed features to its consumer cameras. [Update: Casio has recently discontinued selling point-and-shoot cameras in the US market. The models described here are still available on the used market. More recent models with similar features are available as unofficial imports on the “gray” market.] These features can be found in Casio’s Exilim line of point-and-shoot cameras, but not all Exilim cameras have the high-speed features. In the current US lineup, there is the EX-ZR100, which lists for $299. The simpler, slightly cheaper EX-ZR10 was recently discontinued in the United States but still sold internationally. The EX-ZR200, EX-ZR300, and EX-ZR1000 are newer models not officially imported into the US. The EX-FC150 is an older, discontinued model. All of these cameras, including the discontinued and international models, are available through Ebay and other online sources. So, you can shop around for the most suitable model and the best price.

Casio EZ-ZR200 high-speed camera

Video modes vary slightly from model to model, so it’s important to check the specs before you buy. All of these models will shoot standard and high-definition video at 30 frames per second (fps). High-definition video will be 1080p for current models, 720p for the FC150. High-speed video modes are 120 fps, 240 fps, 480 fps, and 1000 fps. Not all models provide the 120- and 1000-fps modes, however. The ZR100, for example, lacks the 120-fps mode. So, if you need 120 fps, the older FC150 would be a better choice.

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Written by Astro1 on November 22nd, 2012 , Electronics Tags:

As citizen scientists begin developing experiments to fly on the XCOR Lynx spacecraft (see our Call For Experiments), the range of hardware options for payload developers is rapidly increasing. Within the last month, two new microcontroller boards have appeared on the market.

Arduino Due 32-bit microcontroller board

The long-awaited 32-bit Arduino Due microcontroller board has been released and is available for purchase through Makershed, Sparkfun, and Adafruit. Retail price is $49.95.

Running at 84 MHz, the Arduino Due offers a significant performance boost over 8-bit Arduino boards such as the Arduino Uno (16 MHz). The Arduino Due uses the same Maker-friendly Arduino integrated development environment as the Arduino Uno. It also offers API-level software compatibility and compatibility with most Arduino hardware shields – all factors which minimize the learning curve for Arduino developers.

The Arduino Due provides 512 KB of flash memory and two backs of static RAM (64 KB and 32 KB). Full specifications can be found here.

Netduino 2 Plus .NET-compatible microcontroller board

Not to be outdone, Secret Labs LLC has released the 168-MHz Netduino Plus 2, with 1 megabyte of flash memory and 192 KB of RAM. The Netduino series of 32-bit microcontroller boards are compatible with most Arduino shields but run the Microsoft .NET Micro Framework. This makes Netduino a good option for developers who are familiar with the Microsoft .NET platform and Visual Studio development environment.

The Netduino Plus 2 retails for $59.95 and is available through Amazon and Adafruit.

It’s our hope that citizen scientists will try out a wide range of microcontroller and microprocessor options during our initial flight campaign. We will be publishing a guide to available processor options in the near future.

Written by Astro1 on November 21st, 2012 , Electronics Tags:

Tardigrades, also known as waterbears or moss piglets, are tiny (microscopic or near-microscopic) multi-celled extremophiles found in a variety of environments. Tardigrades are most easily found in lichens and mosses but are also known to live in marine and freshwater sediments, soil, sand dunes, and beaches. They have been found at oceans depths of 13,000 feet and altitudes above 20,000 feet in the Himalayas. The exist at every latitude from the poles to the equator.

Tardigrades can enter a dormant state in which they can survive for years without water. They have shown the ability to survive temperatures as high 300º F and close to absolute zero (-459º F). They can tolerate radiation lethals 1000 times greater than the mean lethal dose for humans (5000-6000 Gray units versus 2.5). They can survive pressures of 1,200-6,000 atmospheres and the vacuum of space.

Clark Lindsey’s Space For All blog provided a pointer to the following video about a citizen scientist who studies tardigrades.

The ability of tardigrades to survive in space was first shown by the European Space Agency’s Biopan-6 experimental platform during the Russian Foton-M3 mission in 2007.

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Written by Astro1 on September 7th, 2012 , Astrobiology Tags:

This is the first in a series of posts that will suggest some experiments we’d like to see citizen scientists build for our suborbital flights.

NASA performed a soldering experiment aboard the International Space Station on five occasions between April 2003 and April 2005, producing a total of 86 samples. The following video shows ISS science officer Mike Fincke performing the soldering experiment during Expedition 9 in 2004.

Soldering will be an important technique for repairing future spacecraft and systems, in orbit and at future destinations such as the Moon and Mars. On Earth, gas bubbles can cause the formation of pores that reduce the strength of a solder joint. In microgravity, these pores are more likely because gas bubbles have less chance to escape. Principal Investigator Richard Grugel of NASA Mashall Space Flight Center wanted to study the formation of solder joints, by video recording and examination of samples returned to Earth.

In this video, as the solder is heated, it becomes a molten blob with a droplet of rosin clinging tight to the outside. Then, as the temperature rises, the droplet starts to spin – a completely unexpected result.

The In-Space Soldering Investigation (ISSI) was developed after the Columbia accident as a cheap, quick experiment the astronauts could do with hardware that was already present aboard the space station. It was followed by the Reduced Gravity Soldering Experiment on Expedition 14 (September 2006 – April 2007) and the Component Repair Experiment on Expedition 18 (October 2008 – April 2009).

ISSI is an example of a low-cost experiment that can be done by humans in space but could also be automated easily. It may not be possible to do a complete component-repair experiment on a suborbital flight, but suborbital spacecraft could provide a great platform for studying the basic behavior of solder in microgravity without the cost and complexity of an ISS mission.

We’d like to see someone perform a solder experiment as one of our citizen-science payloads. (See our Call for Experiments.) One possible improvement over the original design might be better video imaging.

We think it might be interesting to observe the behavior of the solder using high-speed video. High-speed video cameras are usually very expensive and fairly large, but Casio has developed a series of inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras with rather remarkable high-speed video modes. The model numbers and features change slightly from year to year. Current models are the Casio Exilim ZR-10 and Exilim ZR-100.  These cameras list for $249 and $299, respectively, but generally sell for a little over $200 online. Older models such as the Exilim FC150 are also available through sources such as Ebay, and Casio just recently introduced the ZR-200 and ZR-300.

In addition to standard and high-definition video at 30 frames per second (fps), the EX-ZR10 can record 240-fps video at 432×320-pixel resolution and 480-fps video at 224×160.The EX-ZR100 has the same video modes plus 1000-fps at 224×64-pixel resolution. The 1000-fps video image is tiny but the 240- and even 480-fps videos look like they might be quite useful.

The new EX-ZR200 can record 120-fps video  at 640×480-pixel resolution, 240-fps video at 512×384, 480-fps video at 224×160, and 1000-fps video at 223×64. Details on the EX-ZR300 (not yet available in North America) are sparse but video modes are expected to be similar to the EX-ZR200.

In burst mode, the cameras are capable of shooting full-resolution still images (12 megapixels for the EX-ZR10 and EX-ZR100, 16 megapixels for the EX-ZR-200) at speeds of up to 30 fps.

Another useful feature these cameras provide, for citizen-science experimenters, is excellent close-focusing capability. The EX-ZR10 is capable of macro focusing at distances as close as 2 centimeters, while the EX-ZR100 and EX-ZR-200 can go as close as 1 centimeter.

So, there are a lot of imaging options to choose from with these cameras. Unfortunately, high-speed video and burst photography will fill up the camera’s buffer quite rapidly, so the shooting time at these speeds is quite limited. That means the experimenter will need some way to trigger the camera at the proper time. This could be done mechanically, with a mechanism that presses the camera’s shutter button, or electronically by hacking into the camera’s trigger circuit.

Lighting must be provided also. High-speed video requires lots of light because the shutter is necessarily open for a very brief period of time, and of course, the experiment will be in a closed box. The specifications for the new ZX-ZR-200 show higher ISO ratings, so it might have an advantage there, but camera noise  can be a problem at high ISO ratings (although manufacturers are working hard to improve it).

Here are some references you can look at, if you’d like to work on this experiment:

Gravitational Effects on Solder Joints (American Welding Society – Welding Journal)

In-Space Soldering Investigation Fact Sheet

Soldering in Reduced Gravity Experiment Fact Sheet

Component Repair Experiment Fact Sheet

Houston, We Have a Solution

Students to Study the Effects of Microgravity on Solder Joints

Soldering Surprise

Written by Astro1 on May 28th, 2012 , Electronics, Microgravity Tags: