Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tiny Satellite to be designed by the students of Merritt Island High School

A group of 12 students from Merritt Island High School are participating in Kennedy Space Center's Creating Understanding and Broadening Education through Satellite (CUBES) pilot project. One day soon they may see the tiny satellite they design, called a CubeSat, fly as a secondary payload with a university satellite on one of NASA's expendable launch vehicle missions.

The CUBES project, developed and implemented by Kennedy's Foundations of Leadership Team, is spearheaded by the center's Education Programs Office. The Launch Services Program (LSP) is sponsoring the project and providing the CubeSat kits and additional support material.

Merritt Island is only the second high school in the country, and the first in Florida, to design and build a CubeSat.

Danielle, an incoming senior and CUBES project manager, said she heard about the project through the school's science club and wanted to get involved because it was truly an opportunity of a lifetime.

"I've lived next to the space center my entire life so it is a dream come true to be able to partner with engineers to design, construct and launch a satellite," Danielle said.

Erin, also an incoming senior said she heard about the project through the school's engineering club, as did many of the other students who signed up. Erin readied the preliminary system requirements for review.

"I really wanted to get involved because it seemed like something unique and different than anything else at the school," Erin said. "I knew it would be a great learning experience."

Kennedy mentor Shaun Daly from the Engineering Directorate, is the programmatic manager and liaison to the LSP. He said the mentors are equally excited about the potential to be involved in the development of a CubeSat.

"We hold ourselves to a promise that the students run this project," Daly said. "We will continue to enable learning while giving guidance where needed, but the students make the end decisions."

After completing the first major milestones, which were delivering a mission concept review and preliminary systems requirements review to NASA and industry personnel in late April, the students received approval to continue on to the design phase.

Danielle said the reviews included an overview of the mission and how the team plans to achieve it. She and other students talked about each subsystem, including power, communication, command and data and the requirements needed for each.

"The CubeSat is a tool to educate," said Garrett Skrobot, who is the LSP PPOD/CubeSat mission manager. "It is a way to encourage high school students to get excited about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers."

Grace Johnson, the CUBES education project manager, said that the tiny satellite's primary mission will be to collect vibration data during the launch, which is one of LSP's goals. The data will be transmitted wirelessly to the university satellite also on the mission, and then from there to Earth.

"This is potentially the beginning of a series of missions that could support that effort," Johnson said. "It's also a way to show that high school students can design and build a small satellite."

Danielle said that LSP requirements need to be changed in order to allow the CubeSat to be powered on during launch for data transmission. Normally, secondary payloads must be powered off so they don't interfere with the primary satellite during launch.

According to Alison Fertig, a physics teacher and project advisor, the students will meet during the summer to redefine requirements and work on their trades. She hopes the students will be able to travel to Utah State University at the beginning of August for the Small Satellite Conference and a CubeSat workshop facilitated by California Polytechnic University.

Daly and several other mentors are exceptionally proud of the work the students already accomplished and also are impressed with the innovative solutions they developed to meet tough engineering challenges in the beginning design phase of the project.

"There is much to come," Daly said. "We expect great things from the students and I am sure they will deliver in a big way."

Friday, June 24, 2011

NASA Will Host 150 People for Tweetup at Launch of Jupiter-Bound Mission

NASA will host a two-day launch Tweetup for 150 of its Twitter followers on Aug. 4-5 at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Tweetup is expected to culminate in the launch of the Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft aboard an Atlas V rocket.

The launch window opens at 8:39 a.m. PDT (11:39 a.m. EDT) on Aug. 5. The spacecraft is expected to arrive at Jupiter in 2016. The mission will investigate the gas giant's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere. Juno's color camera will provide close-up images of Jupiter, including the first detailed glimpse of the planet's poles.

The Tweetup will provide @NASA Twitter followers with the opportunity to tour the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex; speak with scientists and engineers from the Juno and other upcoming missions; and, if all goes as scheduled, view the spacecraft launch. The event also will provide participants the opportunity to meet fellow tweeps and members of NASA's social media team.

Juno is the second of four space missions launching this year, making 2011 one of the busiest ever in planetary exploration. Aquarius was launched June 10 to study ocean salinity; Grail will launch Sept. 8 to study the moon's gravity field; and the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity rover will head to the Red Planet no earlier than Nov. 25.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


June 21, 2011: In Sept. 1859, on the eve of a below-average solar cycle, the sun unleashed one of the most powerful storms in centuries. The underlying flare was so unusual, researchers still aren't sure how to categorize it. The blast peppered Earth with the most energetic protons in half-a-millennium, induced electrical currents that set telegraph offices on fire, and sparked Northern Lights over Cuba and Hawaii.

This week, officials have gathered at the National Press Club in Washington DC to ask themselves a simple question: What if it happens again?

"A similar storm today might knock us for a loop," says Lika Guhathakurta, a solar physicist at NASA headquarters. "Modern society depends on high-tech systems such as smart power grids, GPS, and satellite communications--all of which are vulnerable to solar storms."

She and more than a hundred others are attending the fifth annual Space Weather Enterprise Forum—"SWEF" for short. The purpose of SWEF is to raise awareness of space weather and its effects on society especially among policy makers and emergency responders. Attendees come from the US Congress, FEMA, power companies, the United Nations, NASA, NOAA and more.

As 2011 unfolds, the sun is once again on the eve of a below-average solar cycle—at least that’s what forecasters are saying. The "Carrington event" of 1859 (named after astronomer Richard Carrington, who witnessed the instigating flare) reminds us that strong storms can occur even when the underlying cycle is nominally weak.

In 1859 the worst-case scenario was a day or two without telegraph messages and a lot of puzzled sky watchers on tropical islands.

In 2011 the situation would be more serious. An avalanche of blackouts carried across continents by long-distance power lines could last for weeks to months as engineers struggle to repair damaged transformers. Planes and ships couldn’t trust GPS units for navigation. Banking and financial networks might go offline, disrupting commerce in a way unique to the Information Age. According to a 2008 report from the National Academy of Sciences, a century-class solar storm could have the economic impact of 20 hurricane Katrinas.

As policy makers meet to learn about this menace, NASA researchers a few miles away are actually doing something about it:

"We can now track the progress of solar storms in 3 dimensions as the storms bear down on Earth," says Michael Hesse, chief of the GSFC Space Weather Lab and a speaker at the forum. "This sets the stage for actionable space weather alerts that could preserve power grids and other high-tech assets during extreme periods of solar activity."