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NASA Hack Space: November 2012


"NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston is accepting applications from teams of kindergarten, elementary and secondary school teachers to conduct scientific experiments aboard the agency's reduced gravity aircraft next year. The MicroGravity eXperience (Micro GX) flight program will take place July 12-20, 2013, at Johnson. Educators selected to fly also will participate in an online professional development course centered on microgravity science in the months before and after their flights. Seven teams, each composed of four to five educators from a single school or school district, will be selected to participate in Micro GX. The unique academic experience includes scientific and inquiry-based research, experiential learning during the reduced gravity flight, and education/public outreach activities." More.

"After two successful years of on-orbit operations, NASA's Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite, or FASTSAT, mission is coming to an end. FASTSAT successfully demonstrated a capability to build, deploy and operate a science and technology flight mission at lower costs than previously possible. The satellite was designed, developed and tested over a period of 14 months at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., in partnership with the Von Braun Center for Science & Innovation and Dynetics, both of Huntsville, and the Department of Defense's Space Test Program. FASTSAT used off-the-shelf commercial hardware provided by NASA and a group of industry partners. Weighing slightly less than 400 pounds and carrying six technology and atmospheric science experiments, FASTSAT provided an opportunity to conduct innovative research and mature the readiness of new technologies for future missions." More

"In December 2012, Austria will launch its first two satellites: UniBRITE and BRITE-Austria. This is the first pair of three, forming a network called BRITE-Constellation. The other pairs being contributed by Canada and Poland. The primary goal of BRITE-Constellation is the exploration of short term intensity variations of bright stars (V>6 mag) for a few years. For each satellite pair, one will employ a blue filter and the other a red filter. With the discovery of the first exoplanet in 1992, more than 800 have been detected since. The high-precision photometry from the BRITE instrument will enable a transit search for exoplanets around bright stars. To estimate the capability of BRITE to detect planets, we include in our calculations technical constraints, such as photometric noise levels for stars accessible by BRITE, the duty cycle and duration of observations. The most important parameter is the fraction of stars harboring a planet. Our simulation is based on 2695 stars distributed over the entire sky. Kepler data indicate that at minimum 34% of all stars are orbited by at least one of five different planetary sizes: Earth, Super-Earth, Uranus, Jupiter and Super-Jupiter. Depending on the duty cycle and duration of the observations, about six planets should be detectable in 180 days, of which about five of them being of Jupiter size." More

"Have you taken an interesting astronomical photo this year? From planets and moons to the Sun, stars and galaxies, we'd like you to send us your images to feature as our Space Science Image of the Week on 31 December. The ESA Space Science team's favourite image will take the slot of our weekly image during the week beginning 31 December 2012 as a celebration of the astronomical events of the year gone by. The best of the rest will feature in our dedicated ESA Space Science images Flickr gallery. During 2012, the sky has staged a series of astronomical theatrics to provide plenty of inspiration for your entry. Perhaps you were lucky enough to observe a solar eclipse, or even the transit of Venus. Maybe you snapped a meteor streaking through the sky, or perhaps you found beauty in the constellations this year. Images of galaxies and nebulae are also welcomed." More

"No one could accuse the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of lacking imagination. But to rethink the entire design, development and manufacturing process used by aerospace for decades is ambitious, even for the agency that helped bring us GPS, the Internet and stealth. Under the Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) program, Darpa is working to combine model-based design, virtual collaborative engineering and foundry-style manufacturing into an end-to-end process that cuts development timescales by a factor of five, eliminating the design-build-test-redesign cycle that is driving costs and delays. "It's safe to say that the direction we have been going in military acquisitions is not a sustainable path," says Lt. Col. Nathan Wiedenman, Darpa AVM program manager. "We simply can't continue to spend more and get less for the money we spend." More at Aviation Week

"This notice is issued in accordance with 51 U.S.C. 20144(c). The 2013 Sample Return Robot Challenge is scheduled and teams that wish to compete may register. Centennial Challenges is a program of prize competitions to stimulate innovation in technologies of interest and value to NASA and the nation. The 2013 Sample Return Robot Challenge is a prize competition designed to encourage development of new technologies or application of existing technologies in unique ways to create robots that can autonomously seek out samples and return to a designated point in a set time period. Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) of Worcester, Massachusetts administers the Challenge for NASA. NASA is providing the prize purse." More

"NASA is soliciting broad community inputs in support of a study activity focused on utilization of large flight qualified optical systems recently transferred to NASA from another Government Agency. The Study on Applications of Large Space Optics (SALSO) activity is a multistep process to develop a representative set of options for the use of these assets that draws on government, academic and industry capabilities to address Agency-wide needs. The goal of the overall study is to gather and assess concepts for possible utilization of the recently acquired systems for Agency goals aligned with 5 principal areas; space technology, human exploration and operations, heliophysics, planetary science, and astrophysics (excluding an infrared wide field survey). The SALSO activity consists of a managed workshop and follow-on study of concepts flowing from the workshop process. NASA encourages submission of concepts that address multiple NASA objectives (above); make innovative use of NASA capabilities and/or anticipated commercial services; and/or incorporate innovative processes or partnership arrangements." More

"Engineers at the University of Glasgow and Clyde Space Ltd have developed a practical solution to the increasing problem of space debris. Millions of pieces of 'space junk' are orbiting the Earth as a side-effect of human exploration and exploitation of space. The pieces range from tiny fragments of bigger objects such as rocket boosters to full-sized pieces of now-defunct equipment. Working satellites and spacecraft can be damaged by collisions with debris, which can travel at velocities of several kilometres per second. The problem is compounded by every collision which creates more debris in turn; in 2009, the collision of a non-operational Russian communications satellite and a working US satellite created more than 700 pieces of debris. Dr Patrick Harkness of the University's School of Engineering has led the development of the Aerodynamic End Of Life Deorbit System, or AEOLDOS, to help ensure that objects sent into space in future can be removed from orbit at the end of their operational cycle." More - with video

NASA GRC Solicitation: Curiosity Rover Scale Models

"NASA/GRC has a requirement for two (2) high quality 1/10th scale models and one (1) 1/5th scale model of the Curiosity Rover. NASA/GRC intends to purchase the items from Scale Model Company on a sole source basis due to the proprietary restrictions on drawings."

Keith's note: "Proprietary restrictions on drawings"? Gee, I wonder were this company got the data for the drawings of Curiosity in the first place? (Likely) answer: one way or another it all comes from NASA - even if the company did additional work on the drawings for their own uses. Too bad NASA has to spend lots of money on these models. There is little, if any, incentive at NASA to find cheaper ways to procure things like this since the expensive way is the way things have always been done. I wonder how much they are paying for these models? If I ask NASA PAO what the models cost they will almost certainly refuse to tell me and will make me file a FOIA request.

More or less every NASA center has 3-D printers these days and is experimenting with 3-D printing of satellite and rocket engine components. Why not take NASA's Curiosity drawings and make them open source? There's a large, growing DIY / "Maker" community who'd just love to do this for free. Then anyone (including NASA) can just print the models out - at a variety of scales - in a variety of materials - on an as-needed basis. Not only would this provide a huge audience with a chance to get a more intimate understanding of how these rovers work, it would also end up costing less money to make these models that NASA just loves to spend money on.

That said, I am sure the ITAR enforcers will find reasons why you can't release things like this - even if the schematics simply show the outside of components - not their internal design. Yet nothing stops a company like Scaled Model Company from producing a model on their own - one of sufficient fidelity that NASA itself wants to buy it.

- 3D Printed CubeSat, Fabbaloo
- PrintSat - An Amateur Radio 3D Printer CubeSat, Southgate
- 3D Printing of cubesat structure, YouTube
- NASA 3D prints rocket parts -- with steel, not plastic, ExtremeTech

"This annual competition is open to university and college students from the United States, Canada, Mexico and other countries. Teams of three to 10 students must design, build and launch a sensor payload called a CanSat. Each CanSat is slightly larger than a soda can and must be built according to the specifications released by the competition organizing committee." More

"NASA is considering the initiation of an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Airspace Operations Challenge (hereinafter "Challenge") to be conducted under the Centennial Challenges Program administered through NASA Headquarters located in Washington, D.C. Through this Opportunity Notice (NOTICE) NASA seeks to select a Lead Allied Organization and additional Supporting Allied Organization(s) to work with NASA to conduct this Challenge. Overall coordination of the Lead and Supporting Allied Organizations will be done by a NASA Challenge manager. The date for Challenge competition is expected to be between August 30, 2013 and June 30, 2014 depending upon the availability of a test range and competitor registration date." More

"William 'Red' Whittaker often spends his Sundays lowering a robot into a recently blown up coal mine pit near his cattle ranch in Pennsylvania (see video). By 2015, he hopes that his robot, or something like it, will be rappelling down a much deeper hole, on the Moon. The hole was discovered three years ago when Japanese researchers published images from the satellite SELENE, but spacecraft orbiting the Moon have been unable to see into its shadowy recesses."

NASA Ames Director Pete Worden Talks Small Satellites (Video)

"Last week at the Canadian Space Summit Pete Worden was one of the invited keynote speakers. His topic was Small Satellites for Science and Other Uses and as an example: Earth Observation, promises and challenges. Among the technologies he discusses is the Interplanetary Internet and what the future might hold. The talk is about 30 minutes with a 12 minute question and answer session."

"NASA's PhoneSat project has won Popular Science's 2012 Best of What's New Award for innovation in aerospace. PhoneSat will demonstrate the ability to launch one of the lowest-cost, easiest-to-build satellites ever flown in space -- capabilities enabled by using off-the-shelf consumer smartphones. Each year, Popular Science reviews thousands of new products and innovations, and chooses the top 100 winners across 12 categories for its annual Best of What's New issue. To win, a product or technology must represent a significant step forward in its category. All of the winners will be featured in the December special issue of the magazine. "NASA's PhoneSat mission will demonstrate use of small satellites for space commerce, educational activities and citizen-exploration are well within the reach of ordinary Americans because of lower cost, commercially available components," said Michael Gazarik, director of NASA's Space Technology Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Thanks to America's continuing investment in space technology to enable NASA missions, we've seen space tech brought down and into our lives here on Earth. With PhoneSat, we're doubling up, and taking those same great technologies back to space." More

"Organizers of the NASA Student Launch Projects have announced the 57 student teams whose inventive creations will soar skyward in April during the space agency's 2012-13 rocketry challenge. Representing schools in 26 states around the country, participating teams each will design and build a large, high-powered rocket, complete with a working science or engineering payload and capable of flying to the target altitude of 1 mile. NASA created the rocketry challenge to encourage young people to pursue careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. "Every year, the NASA Student Launch Projects build on our students' classroom studies in an energizing, exciting way," said Tammy Rowan, manager of the Academic Affairs Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., which organizes the event. "It's great fun, but it also reflects the real-world complexity of planning missions, building flight hardware and completing tough pre-flight checks and reviews. It tests their problem-solving skills and gives them practical, hands-on experience. We hope the experience is so unforgettable it leads many of them to become the nation's next generation of scientists, engineers and space explorers." More

"NASA estimates more than 500,000 pieces of hazardous space debris orbit the earth, threatening satellites that support peacekeeping and combat missions. These objects include spent rocket stages, defunct satellites and fragments from other spacecraft that are the result of erosion, explosion and collision. A collision between one of these small pieces of debris and a satellite could release more than 20,000 times the energy of a head-on automobile collision at 65 mph. To help address the threat, DARPA created SpaceView, a space debris tracking project that provides amateur astronomers with the means to make a difference. Amateur astronomers will have their first opportunity to sign up in person for the program at the Arizona Science and Astronomy Expo in Tucson, November 10-11, 2012." More

"The National Science Foundation today awarded a $2.5-million grant to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to enable its participation in a new international organization that will accelerate research data sharing among scientists around the globe. The grant will be used to develop a Research Data Alliance (RDA) that will allow researchers the world over to collaboratively use scientific data to speed up innovation. To date, more than 120 U.S. and international participants are helping conceptualize the organization and populate its first efforts. Along with scientific and data leaders from the United States, members from Australia and the European Union are part of the new alliance's organizational steering committee. U.S. participation will be led by Rensselaer Computer Science Professor Francine Berman." More

"NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) successfully have used an experimental version of interplanetary Internet to control an educational rover from the International Space Station. The experiment used NASA's Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) protocol to transmit messages and demonstrate technology that one day may enable Internet-like communications with space vehicles and support habitats or infrastructure on another planet. Space station Expedition 33 commander Sunita Williams in late October used a NASA-developed laptop to remotely drive a small LEGO robot at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. The European-led experiment used NASA's DTN to simulate a scenario in which an astronaut in a vehicle orbiting a planetary body controls a robotic rover on the planet's surface." More

"Future space explorers are getting on their marks to invade gyms and train like astronauts for the 2013 Mission-X challenge. Luca Parmitano, the next European to fly to the Space Station, is giving youngsters tips on being fit and having a healthy lifestyle. In its third year, Mission-X fever is spreading across the planet. Schoolchildren aged 8-12 years will follow the six-week challenge in over 20 different countries. In Europe, new participants will include Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Young explorers worldwide will earn points by completing activities inspired by astronaut training." More


"Registration is now open for the 20th annual NASA Great Moonbuggy Race, which challenges high school, college and university students around the world to build and race fast, lightweight "moonbuggies" of their own design. The students' work will culminate in two days of competitive racing April 26-27, 2013, at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. NASA created the event two decades ago to complement classroom learning, provide young thinkers and builders with real-world engineering experience and inspire them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- the STEM fields. "It's our goal to keep the wheels turning," said Tammy Rowan, manager of the Academic Affairs Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, which organizes the race each year. "The ingenuity and enthusiasm we see among racers begins in the classroom. That first spark of interest -- whether it's in basic chemistry or astronomy or the history of spaceflight -- starts the wheels turning. The Great Moonbuggy Race helps sustain that momentum, turning interest into passion, and dreams into a lifelong pursuit of new answers and new horizons." More

Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves, MIT

"With 100 million first-grade-aged children worldwide having no access to schooling, the One Laptop Per Child organization is trying something new in two remote Ethiopian villages--simply dropping off tablet computers with preloaded programs and seeing what happens. ... Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. "I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch ... powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android," Negroponte said. "Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android."

Ethiopian kids hack OLPCs in 5 months with zero instruction, Dvice

"What happens if you give a thousand Motorola Zoom tablet PCs to Ethiopian kids who have never even seen a printed word? Within five months, they'll start teaching themselves English while circumventing the security on your OS to customize settings and activate disabled hardware. Whoa."

Keith's note: If you read NASA Watch often enough you know I tend to focus a lot on the education and public outreach that NASA does, crowd sourcing, open source computing, etc. When I came across this story my jaw dropped. I had seen hints of this when I was in Nepal and visited the Khumjung school and when I saw Sherpa children playing with laptops in remote villages where small scale hydro systems provided only rudimentary power. I have an OLPC XO laptop so I have an idea what they have to work with. But this story from Ethiopia just stunned me. The take home lesson? Perhaps education and public outreach as practiced by NASA and other agencies and organizations needs to just drop the trendy gimmicks and focus in on the most basic enablers of learning. Imagine the cadre of coders and spacecraft designers NASA could cause to arise form all sectors of the economy and regions of the America ...