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NASA Hack Space: December 2009


Image: CU-Boulder Professor Xinlin Li holds a tiny spacecraft that will carry a CU student-built instrument package into space in 2012 to measure the behavior of so-called "killer electrons" in space that can have negative impacts on spacecraft and astronauts. Image courtesy Emilia Reed, CU-Boulder Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

The University of Colorado at Boulder has been awarded $840,000 from the National Science Foundation for students to build a tiny spacecraft to observe energetic particles in space that should give scientists a better understanding of solar flares and their interaction with Earth's atmosphere.

The three-year grant to CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics and the aerospace engineering sciences department involves the development of a 5-pound, loaf of bread-sized spacecraft carrying a miniature instrument package to observe energetic particles tied to "space weather" in the near-Earth environment. CU-Boulder graduate students working with CU-Boulder faculty and LASP scientists and engineers will develop, integrate and test the experiment as well as conduct subsequent mission operations and data analysis.

Engage the x drive: Ten ways to traverse deep space, New Scientist

"Apart from the mundane problems of budgets and political will, the major roadblock is that our dominant space-flight technology - chemically fuelled rockets - just isn't up to the distances involved. We can send robot probes to the outer planets, but they take years to get there. And as for visiting other stars, forget it. As an example of why, the Apollo 10 moon probe is currently listed as the fastest manned vehicle in history, having reached a maximum speed of 39,895 kilometres per hour. At this speed, it would take 120,000 years to cover the 4 light years to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system."

The Science Behind James Cameron's Avatar

"It's the year 2154 and humankind has reached out to the stars in director James Cameron's new science-fiction epic Avatar. The movie takes us to an exotic jungle moon called Pandora where humans are the aliens and a clash is brewing with the natives."

Keith's note: I just saw "Avatar" in IMAX 3D. It is simply stunning, utterly convincing, and profoundly immersive. You must see it. This is not a "movie". It is something much more - a paradigm shifter to be certain.

Avatar's Moon Pandora Could Be Real, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

"In the new blockbuster Avatar, humans visit the habitable - and inhabited - alien moon called Pandora. Life-bearing moons like Pandora or the Star Wars forest moon of Endor are a staple of science fiction. With NASA's Kepler mission showing the potential to detect Earth-sized objects, habitable moons may soon become science fact."

Characterizing Habitable Exo-Moons, astro-ph

"We discuss the possibility of screening the atmosphere of exomoons for habitability. We concentrate on Earth-like satellites of extrasolar giant planets (EGP) which orbit in the Habitable Zone of their host stars."

"NASA/HQ has a requirement for Support Services for the ZERO Robotics competition. The ZERO Robotics competition enables high-school students to participate in the SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage Re-orient Experimental Satellite) program by writing their own algorithms to solve a problem provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) team. The pilot program involves two high schools that will compete against each other during a test session that will be conducted aboard the ISS during the winter of 2009-2010. The contractor will support the pilot program to completion and evaluate its results, setting clear and realistic objectives for a potential national program to start in the Fall of 2010 or 2011. The Government intends to purchase the services from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT is uniquely qualified to perform this pilot program and provide support engineering because they created the SPHERES program and hold proprietary ownership of the data." More

In line with the Obama administration's efforts to establish an open and transparent government, one of Nebula's goals is to create a secure gateway through which NASA can share select data sets with outside researchers and the American public while at the same time, limit access to it's highly-secured internal networks.

One of the projects Nebula has been very excited to support enables the public to view and explore the surfaces of the Moon and Mars in unprecedented resolution in both Google Earth and Microsoft World Wide Telescope. The NASA team responsible for these projects leveraged Nebula to perform sophisticated large-scale image processing and hosting of hundreds of thousands of high-resolution images and over 100 terabytes of data. This project involved sophisticated 3D image modeling using 2D image tiles, enabling the public to explore the surfaces of these celestial bodies in realistic, 3D worlds.

The International Space Station hosts astronauts, gear and science from around the world. Three laboratories from Europe, Japan and the United States bring them all together for the most advanced research and development. More than 150 experiments involving researchers from around the world are active at any given time.

While the space station is the most advanced spacecraft ever built, its coordinate system is labeled like any sea-faring vessel on Earth using traditional nautical terms. Understanding this coordinate system will help you use this interactive and understand the relative positions of the onboard experiment facilities.

Keith Cowing's note: On Thursday, 10 December 2009, we conducted a live webcast from the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) at "McMoon's" i.e. Building 596 at the NASA Ames Research Park.

Dennis Wingo and I give you a tour of our project including a walk through of the abandoned McDonald's that has been our base of operations since 2008. We show you how we rack tapes, play them back, capture the data on a computer, and then stitch the image framelets together. You can look over our shoulders and see the imagery as it appears on one of our old TV monitors. We've picked an especially interesting tape to show you. Eventually this image will be posted online at LPI and submitted to the NSSDC.

This project has been funded and supported by a bunch of imaginative folks at ESMD, IPP, NLSI, ARC, SkyCorp, SpaceRef Interactive, and Odyssey Moon with assistance from a range of people ranging from retired Lunar Orbiter project personnel and Lockheed Martin employees to local high school and college students. Soon, we expect to have two tape drives fully operational and to be able to produce images on a daily basis.

Oh yes, in case you are wondering, I donate my time (and money) to this project. What fun. Its like bringing a time machine back to life in a high tech junkyard. We are looking to begin some pervasive EPO in coordination with NLSI and the Challenger Center for Space Science Education in the very near future.

Moon Work Design Contest Offers NASA Internships to Winners

"The 2010 NASA Moon Work engineering design challenge seeks to motivate college students by giving them first-hand experience with the process of developing new technologies. To participate in the contest, students will submit their original design for tools or instruments that can help astronauts live and work on the moon. Top-ranked students will be offered a chance to intern with a team from NASA's Exploration Technology Development Program."

WA physicist's 'Moon Dust' tapes may hold keys to future lunar landings

"A set of original NASA data tapes from moon landings in the 1960s now held in Western Australia may hold the keys to overcoming problems associated with the effects of lunar dust on future moon missions. They are also set to help kickstart the Australian Government's recently launched space research program. The 177 original (or primary) data tapes - most likely the only tapes of their kind in the world - contain the results of experiments using dust detectors on the surface of the moon by Apollo 11, 12 and 14 astronauts. They have been recently supplemented by secondary data from Apollo 12, 14 and 15 missions."