Category Archives: Cool Stuff

Rocketry Challenge Winners

NASA – For the first time in four years, a new team has won NASA’s Student Launch, the agency’s high-powered rocketry challenge, hosted by and held near NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, April 5-8. The River City Rocketry team from the University of Louisville, in Louisville, Kentucky, captured top honors. They’ve proven hard work and determination pays off, literally, taking home a cash prize of $5,000, offered by Orbital ATK of Promontory, Utah, longtime corporate sponsor of the challenge. No stranger to success, this team from the bluegrass state placed second last year. Since 2011, they’ve earned 10 awards, including Best Vehicle Design, Safety Award, Project Award and more.

In second place, after a record-setting “four-peat” as champions, is Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. They earned a cash prize of $2,500, offered by new sponsor, the National Space Club – Huntsville. For 10 straight years, Vanderbilt soared to success with innovative rocket designs and payloads, and this year was no exception. Having earned more than 20 awards the past decade, the Commodores of Vanderbilt added the 2017 Payload Design, Rocket Fair Display and Education Engagement awards.

Rounding out the top five is Cornell University of Ithaca, in New York; the University of Alabama in Huntsville; and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, in third through fifth place, respectively. The 2017 Rookie of the Year award goes to the University of Evansville, in Evansville, Indiana.

Cornell University, having placed third in back-to-back years, also cracked the top five in 2015, making them a perennial power. The same is true for the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, earning top five finishes in both 2017 and 2015.

While veteran teams prove consistent participation in Student launch helps – especially since this year’s top three teams repeated (though, in a different order) – the novice and rookie teams continue to excel. For example, the University of Huntsville – Alabama team was made up of all-rookie members, yet launched their way to fourth place.

Finishing first may be fun, but it’s not the most important aspect. Student Launch is a real-world outlet for young people to apply lessons learned in class toward relevant and cost-effective research into propulsion and recovery systems.

Nearly 50 student teams from middle and high schools, colleges and universities in 22 states demonstrated advanced rocketry and engineering skills. Teams spent eight months building and testing rockets designed to fly to an altitude of one mile, deploy an automated parachute system, and safely land for reuse, each carrying a scientific payload for data collection during flight.

“It’s exciting to see team designs and enable them to conduct meaningful research into NASA’s journey to Mars and beyond,” said Katie Wallace of Marshall’s Academic Affairs Office. “Working through the NASA design process, students gain a broader understanding of current projects, like the Space Launch System, NASA’s next deep-space exploration rocket.”

On April 8, preliminary awards for additional achievements such as best vehicle design, safety, best team website and more were announced during an awards ceremony at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, hosted by Orbital ATK. View the full list of preliminary award winners here.

The Academic Affairs Office at Marshall manages Student Launch to further NASA’s education goal of attracting and encouraging students to pursue degrees and careers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. NASA’s Office of Education and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, as well as Orbital ATK’s Propulsion Systems Division and the National Space Club – Huntsville, provide funding and leadership.

As the high-pitched whistle of rocket launches have faded, next year’s teams are on deck, ready to solve thrust-to-weight ratios and kinetic energy predictions. After all, it IS rocket science.

Credit: Angela Storey/NASA

There is video of the rocketry team and the rockets available at NASA MFC Ustream, video does not start straightaway so you will need to advance to the beginning or about a half hour.

Behind the scenes photos are on the Marshall Space Flight Center’s Flickr feed, do check them out (better than the video).

Balloon Launch!

Readers that have been around here for a while knows I really like research balloon launches, this one is the size of a football stadium!

Balloon launches are very challenging and making the difficult appear easy isn’t as easy as you might think. Kind of funny, because I hear a lot of people doing the opposite, make the easy appear difficult, I used to work with some of them.

NASA successfully launched its football-stadium-sized, heavy-lift super pressure balloon (SPB) from Wanaka, New Zealand, at 10:50 a.m. Tuesday, April 25 (6:50 p.m. April 24 in U.S. Eastern Time), on a mission designed to run 100 or more days floating at 110,000 feet (33.5 km) about the globe in the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitude band.

Space Junk

Space debris or “junk” is a known problem that is getting worse right on schedule and it is best dealt with sooner rather than later.

We hear a fair bit about the problem of space debris from time to time but it seems no body does anything about it. Well that is not quite true, it isn’t a simple task. Two videos, the first is more of a problem statement as it was in 2013 published by ESA in 2016:

The second highlights the 7th European Conference on Space Debris coming from ESA’s European Space Operations Centre, Darmstadt, Germany on 18 to 21 April 2017.

The promises to be a great conference.

Dark Matter Imaged?

Dark Matter map

Wow – great work!   I look foreword  to reading the paper!

From the University of Waterloo (including image):

Researchers at the University of Waterloo have been able to capture the first composite image of a dark matter bridge that connects galaxies together.

The composite image, which combines a number of individual images, confirms predictions that galaxies across the universe are tied together through a cosmic web connected by dark matter that has until now remained unobservable.

Dark matter, a mysterious substance that comprises around 25 per cent of the universe, doesn’t shine, absorb or reflect light. It has traditionally been largely undetectable, except through gravity.

“For decades, researchers have been predicting the existence of dark-matter filaments between galaxies that act like a web-like superstructure connecting galaxies together,” said Mike Hudson, a professor of astronomy at the University of Waterloo. “This image moves us beyond predictions to something we can see and measure.”

As part of their research, Hudson and co-author Seth Epps, a former master’s student at the University of Waterloo, used a technique called weak gravitational lensing. It’s an effect that causes the images of distant galaxies to warp slightly under the influence of an unseen mass such as a planet, a black hole, or in this case, dark matter. The effect was measured in images from a multi-year sky survey at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope.

They combined lensing images from more than 23,000 galaxy pairs located 4.5 billion light-years away to create a composite image or map that shows the presence of dark matter between the two galaxies. Results show the dark matter filament bridge is strongest between systems less than 40 million light-years apart.

“By using this technique, we’re not only to able to see that these dark matter filaments in the universe exist, we’re able to see the extent to which these filaments connect galaxies together,” said Epps.

Hudson and Epps’ research appears in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Solar Storms Can Drain Electrical Charge?

Well this is news!.  Sure I can believe a build up of electrical charge at he poles, during a solar storm.  That is what we are taught, but wait,  now research is showing the opposite happens as well??  How?

Trying not to give the press release away, I am in the recombination camp I think.  Mostly because the other scenario makes my head hurt — it seems so strange.   I can’t wait to read the paper!

The press release (and hat tip to author  Carol Rasmussen
NASA’s Earth Science News Team for a fun read):

New research on solar storms finds that they not only can cause regions of excessive electrical charge in the upper atmosphere above Earth’s poles, they also can do the exact opposite: cause regions that are nearly depleted of electrically charged particles. The finding adds to our knowledge of how solar storms affect Earth and could possibly lead to improved radio communication and navigation systems for the Arctic.

A team of researchers from Denmark, the United States and Canada made the discovery while studying a solar storm that reached Earth on Feb. 19, 2014. The storm was observed to affect the ionosphere in all of Earth’s northern latitudes. Its effects on Greenland were documented by a network of global navigation satellite system, or GNSS, stations as well as geomagnetic observatories and other resources. Attila Komjathy of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, developed software to process the GNSS data and helped with the data processing. The results were published in the journal Radio Science.

Solar storms often include an eruption on the sun called a coronal mass ejection, or CME. This is a vast cloud of electrically charged particles hurled into space that disturbs the interplanetary magnetic field in our solar system. When these particles and the magnetic disturbances encounter Earth’s magnetic field, they interact in a series of complex physical processes, and trigger perturbations in the Earth’s magnetic field. Those perturbations are called geomagnetic storms. The interactions may cause unstable patches of excess electrons in the ionosphere, an atmospheric region starting about 50 miles (80 kilometers) above Earth’s surface that already contains ions and electrons.

The 2014 geomagnetic storm was a result of two powerful Earth-directed CMEs. The storm initially produced patches of extra electrons in the ionosphere over northern Greenland, as usual. But just south of these patches, the scientists were surprised to find broad areas extending 300 to 600 miles (500 to 1,000 kilometers) where the electrons were “almost vacuumed out,” in the words of Per Hoeg of the National Space Research Institute at the Technical University of Denmark, Lyngby. These areas remained depleted of electrons for several days.

The electrons in the ionosphere normally reflect radio waves back to ground level, enabling long-distance radio communications. Both electron depletion and electron increases in this layer can possibly cause radio communications to fail, reduce the accuracy of GPS systems, damage satellites and harm electrical grids.

“We don’t know exactly what causes the depletion,” Komjathy said. “One possible explanation is that electrons are recombining with positively charged ions until there are no excess electrons. There could also be redistribution — electrons being displaced and pushed away from the region, not only horizontally but vertically.”

The paper is titled “Multiinstrument observations of a geomagnetic storm and its effects on the Arctic ionosphere: A case study of the 19 February 2014 storm.” Lead author Tibor Durgonics is a doctoral student at the Technical University of Denmark. Richard Langley (University of New Brunswick, Canada) provided data sets and interpretation.

JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California.

Image: NASA


Hosted Space X Launch Replay

Here is the SES-10 Hosted Webcast from of the historic flight by Space X. Being “out of town” most of the week, I barely got to see the launch. The hosted webcasts usually provide a good bit of information and this one is no exception:

The post yesterday never published. I had it in a queue but I made a mess of it and, well, nothing happened – my apologies.

Model Rocket Launches

I saw these and just had to share, there’s three!

First up we have a 1/10 scale model of a Saturn V by Steve Eves.  This model is  11 meters / 36 ft tall and weighs in at 747 kg / 1648 lbs.

Read the details about the Saturn V and the trip here.

Hat tip to Bill Nillson

Next up is the UHS RC Space Shuttle Model video from mgas 1237. Not only do they launch it,  they land the Shuttle.  Nice job.

and last but certainly not least  comes the “what not to do” category: Project 463. The rocket is 13 meters / 42 ft tall and weighs 590 kg / 1300 lbs. The video from Matthew Travis. The incident occurred at the FireBALLS 5 amateur and experimental rocketry gathering of “large and dangerous” rockets in Nevada.

I’m sure this was heart-breaking for all involved, especially Chuck Sackett the owner, but it reminds me of an incident in my childhood with my brother and a model airplane. I’m sorry, it was hilarious, I actually fell on the ground laughing, is expression was priceless.