Tag Archives: International Space Station

space

La Trobe and German Aerospace Agency launch Earth observation camera

The DLR Earth Sensing Imaging Spectrometer (DESIS) was created with assistance from the engineering talent of the La Trobe University Engineering department and the imagery will be used to monitor natural disasters and environmental changes. Thousands witnessed the camera launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, attached to Elon Musk’s Space-X Falcon 9 rocket, on 30 June 2018.

La Trobe Engineering Senior Lecturer and Entrepreneur in Residence, Dr Peter Moar, says the collaboration came about because of the La Trobe TIGER (Digital Radar and Radio Systems) radar team’s unique skills and experience designing hardware and software systems for hazardous environments.  “La Trobe University is very much at the forefront of space technology,” Dr Moar said.

“The unique feature of this camera – that no other system can do – is its ability to capture imagery at varying angles as it’s passing overhead, from some 400 kilometres in outer space,” explains Dr Moar. “With sophisticated on-board processing, it enables us to capture features of the Earth’s surface that have never been achieved before.”

“Typically, a system like this would be launched on a stand-alone satellite. This would make designing, launching and building incredibly expensive,” says Dr Moar. Installing the DESIS on the ISS removes the need for an expensive, stand-alone system. “This is the first time this has been trialled – it’s a very exciting project.”

DESIS has been integrated onto the ISS imaging platform named MUSES (Multi-User System for Earch Sensing) and the images will be used by research organisations and commercial users.

These high quality images will be of key benefit for environmental monitoring. La Trobe’s Securing Food, Water and the Environment Research Group plan to use the data to monitor the health of the Earth’s ecosystem, which includes tracking vegetation cover and water quality.

DESIS will also be a boon for disaster management, such as the control and monitoring of bush fires, floods, ash clouds, storms and drought. The School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences at La Trobe and Melbourne-based company ESS Weathertech will use the data for the Firebird fire detection satellite project.  The program will provide more timely fire maps to emergency services to help save lives and minimise damage to property.

Dr Moar says that the La Trobe engineers are uniquely qualified to work on DESIS because of their experience developing radar systems for extremely hazardous environments, such as in La Trobe’s TIGER projects.

“Our involvement with the DESIS program highlights the three decades of expertise in La Trobe’s engineering department. It’s a world-first, cutting edge project”, says Dr Moar.

Earth observation is a key priority for the recently established Australian Space Agency, which aims to position Australia as an international leader in specialised space capabilities. The DESIS is currently in its commissioning phase on the ISS.

lost satellite

Lost satellite?

Featured image above: the Nanoracks CubeSat launcher on the Japanese arm of the International Space Station

The first Australian satellite in 15 years, UNSW-EC0, was successfully deployed from the International Space Station, but the UNSW engineers who built it were unable to establish contact when it made its first pass above Sydney.

UNSW-EC0 was ejected from the station at 3:25pm AEST on 26 May, and made its first pass over Sydney at 4:21pm. Engineers at UNSW’s Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research (ACSER) were unable to pick up the signal it is meant to send to confirm the cubesat is operating as designed.

“We’re not overly concerned yet,” said Elias Aboutanios, project leader of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat and deputy director of ACSER. “We’re troubleshooting a number of scenarios for why we didn’t detect it, from checking our ground equipment to exploring the possibility that the batteries might have discharged. But at the moment, we just don’t know.”

“If it is the batteries, the satellite has solar panels and will be able to recharge,” said Joon Wayn Cheong, a research associate at UNSW’s School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications and technical lead of the UNSW-EC0 cubesat. “But because it was deployed in the Earth’s shadow, we have to wait for it to make a few orbits before it has recharged, especially if it’s tumbling. So it could be 24 to 48 hours.”

The International Space Station, or ISS, will make four more passes over Sydney on Friday 25 May, and the UNSW team of 15 researchers and students will again try to establish contact, and run a series of tests for scenarios to explain the lack of a signal.

UNSW-EC0 is one of three Australian research satellites – two of them built at the UNSW – that blasted off just after on April 19 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Its mission is to explore the little-understood region above Earth known as the thermosphere, study its atomic composition as well as test new robust computer chips and GPS devices developed at UNSW.

In addition, its chassis is made entirely from 3D-printed thermoplastic, itself an experiment to test the reliability of using  3D-printing to manufacture satellites, making them cheaper and much more customisable.

The cubesat is part of an international QB50 mission, a swarm of 36 small satellites – known as ‘cubesats’ and weighing about 1.3 kg each – that will carry out the most extensive measurements ever undertaken of the thermosphere, a region between 200 and 380 km above Earth. This poorly-studied and usually inaccessible zone of the atmosphere helps shield Earth from cosmic rays and solar radiation, and is vital for communications and weather formation.

“These are the first Australian satellites to go into space in 15 years,” said Andrew Dempster, director of ACSER at UNSW, and a member of the advisory council of the Space Industry Association of Australia. “There have only been two before: Fedsat in 2002 and WRESAT in 1967. So we’ve got more hardware in space today than Australia’s had in its history.”

UNSW-EC0 was deployed from the ISS from a Nanoracks launcher, a ‘cannon’ that eject cubesats at a height of 380 km (the same as the ISS), allowing them to drift down to a lower orbit where they can begin their measurements.

“This zone of the atmosphere is poorly understood and really hard to measure,” said Aboutanios. “It’s where much of the ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from the Sun collides with Earth, influencing our weather, generating auroras and creating hazards that can affect power grids and communications.

“So it’s really important we learn a lot more about it. The QB50 cubesats will probably tell us more than we’ve ever known about the thermosphere,” he added.

QB50 is a collaboration of more than 50 universities and research institutes in 23 countries, headed by the von Karman Institute (VKI) in Belgium. “This is the very first international real-time coordinated study of the thermosphere phenomena,” said VKI’s Davide Masutti. “The data generated by the constellation will be unique in many ways and they will be used for many years by scientists around the world.”

This article was first published by UNSW Engineering. Read the original article here.

NASA's women

NASA’s Women in STEM

NASA’s Women in STEM featured image above: Anita Sengupta and Donn Liddle stand with a subscale test model of NASA’s Orion spacecraft and its parachute in the low-speed wind tunnel at Texas A&M University. The Orion spacecraft is being designed to take humans farther into space than ever before. Credit: NASA/James Blair

It’s not often that the lead characters in a blockbuster film have careers as particle physicists and nuclear engineers – and even less often that those roles are played by women. But the new “Ghostbusters” film, which features an all-female team of scientists and engineers, busts not just ghosts, but also some of the tropes about what it means to work in science, technology, engineering and maths. It’s an idea that has scientists and engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) excited about how it might inspire the next generation.

So if they don’t spend their days bustin’ ghosts, what do JPL’s “Ghostbusters” do? Here are the stories of three of NASA’s women in science and engineering at JPL whose jobs, much like their “Ghostbusters” counterparts’, are to explore new realms, battle invisible forces and explain the mysteries around us.

Meet NASA’s Women in STEM


The Leader: Anita Sengupta

NASA women
Anita Sengupta at JPL. Credit: JPL, NASA

Job title:

Project Manager, Cold Atom Laboratory

What she does:

In a team of professional ghostbusters, Anita Sengupta would most certainly be the enthusiastic and multi-talented leader. She’s already taken on roles developing launch vehicles, the parachute that famously helped land the Mars rover Curiosity, and deep-space propulsion systems for missions to comets and asteroids.

NASA’s Women in STEM featured video above: Sengupta and other members of the entry, descent and landing team for NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity discuss the nail-biting details of the August 2012 landing.

Most recently, she’s carved out a niche as the project manager for an atomic physics mission, called the Cold Atom Laboratory, or CAL.

Since the mission was proposed in 2012, Sengupta has been leading a team of engineers and atomic physicists in developing an instrument that can see the unseen. Their mission is to create an ultra-cold quantum gas called a Bose-Einstein condensate, which is a state of matter that forms only at just above absolute zero. At such low temperatures, matter takes on unique properties that seemingly defy the laws of thermodynamics.

To achieve the feat, the team’s device will be installed on the International Space Station in July 2017, where the microgravity of space will keep the Bose-Einstein condensate suspended long enough for scientists to get a look at how it behaves. Observing this behaviour could lead to groundbreaking discoveries, not least of which is a better understanding of how complexity arises in the universe. The facility could also provide new insights into gravity, super fluidity and dark-matter detection.

“We are opening the doorway into a new quantum realm, so we actually don’t know what we’re going to see,” says Sengupta. “That’s what’s so exciting. It’s about discovery.”

Career trajectory:

Sengupta’s career has been defined by her unique ability to take on challenges in new realms of science and engineering. It’s a trait that closely mimics the fictional character who inspired her as a child: Doctor Who.

“I saw the character of the doctor, who was this very eccentric, but loving, kind and brilliant person,” says Sengupta.

“I decided I would like to be a person who travels in space, who understands and can apply all fields of science and engineering. That motivated me to be involved in space exploration and, of course, get my doctorate.”

After considering majors in astrophysics, astronomy, biology and aerospace engineering, she settled on aerospace engineering because, she says, “I loved fixing things, and the idea of knowing how to build spacecraft just blew my mind.”

She doesn’t regret the decision. It seems she would have stretched the boundaries of whichever path she chose. Currently, she’s serving multiple leadership roles on the Cold Atom Laboratory team while also teaching astronautical engineering classes as an associate professor at the University of Southern California. And she still manages to carve out time for her other passions, which include driving sport motorcycles, snowboarding and flying planes.

On STEM in pop culture:

“It’s important for young people to understand that to be an intellectual or a scientist does not necessarily correspond to being socially awkward or geeky,” says Sengupta. “You have all varieties of people.”

“A lot of people at JPL are musicians or athletes or I’m a motorcyclist. There are people who have these hobbies and interests outside of doing something traditionally nerdy, so it’s a disservice to STEM to paint people in any particular light.”


The Engineer: Luz Maria Martinez Sierra

NASA Women
Luz Maria Martinez Sierra at JPL. Credit: JPL, NASA

Job title:

Technologist, Natural Space Environments

What she does:

As a nuclear engineer, Luz Maria Martinez Sierra has never built a ghost-bustin’ proton gun, but she does design defences against invisible forces. In her case, it’s protecting spacecraft from the intense radiation around planets like Jupiter.

“Space is a very hostile environment, and there are a lot of particles and radiation that can be very dangerous to the spacecraft,” says Martinez Sierra. “It’s very important to make sure everything is shielded accordingly, so we run all these simulations to determine, ‘Ok, you will need to protect this and you need to make sure this survives by putting it behind the solar panels.’”

NASA’s Women in STEM featured video above: Part of Martinez Sierra’s work is designing radiation defense systems for spacecraft like the one created for the Juno mission shown in the animation above. Juno arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016 and will fly closer to the planet – and its intense radiation – than ever before. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In addition to shielding spacecraft against radiation, she designs devices that can analyse it to reveal hidden details about planets, moons and other bodies. By looking at the radiation signatures of these bodies, scientists can better understand what they’re made of and whether they might be home to, for example, the ingredients for life.

Career trajectory:

To the unacquainted, a career in nuclear engineering might seem oddly specific, but Martinez Sierra is quick to point out just how many applications it has, even just at NASA. Nuclear engineers might design systems to protect astronauts venturing to places like Mars, build instruments to study the sun and other stars, or work with spacecraft powered by radioactive materials.

For her part, the career path evolved through a love of physics that traces back to high school in her native Colombia.

“I always loved science, even at a young age,” says Martinez Sierra. “And when I took physics in high school, it just clicked. I loved how everything could be described by physics.”

She started attending local astronomy events and later earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering physics. In 2014, she was accepted into an internship with the laboratory’s Maximizing Student Potential in STEM program, which “taught me how to be part of a working environment, solving problems with a team and making sure that I belonged in this field,” she says.

Soon after Martinez Sierra was hired on at JPL, she parlayed her internship experience into a mentorship role with the National Community College Aerospace Scholars program.

NASA's Women
Martinez Sierra mentors a team of students competing in a Mars rover challenge as part of the National Community College Aerospace Scholars program. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lyle Tavernier

“I see myself in them,” says Martinez Sierra of the students she mentored during the program.

“I was lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to study or what I wanted to do in my career or how you go from being in college to being a professional. You don’t see that connection easily. It’s important to help students realise it’s not just magic. You have to pursue it. You have to be proactive.”

That she is. On top of her full-time job and serving as an occasional mentor for students, Martinez Sierra is also earning her doctorate in nuclear engineering.

On STEM in pop culture:

“There are so many different types of engineers and scientists, even at JPL,” says Martinez Sierra. “But they’re always portrayed as the same person in movies and TV shows. I like how in the new ‘Ghostbusters’ movie, the characters are portrayed as these cool people. They’re not boring. They get to play with cool toys and make cool things.”


The Scientist: Jean Dickey

NASA's Women
Jean Dickey in her office at JPL. Credit: JPL, NASA

Job title:

Scientist, Sea Level and Ice

What she does:

While the applications have evolved over her 36-year career at JPL, Jean Dickey’s specialty has always been explaining the mysteries that surround us. Her research focuses on the forces and processes that affect our home planet – everything from Earth’s gravity to changes in length-of-day to its evolving climate. She has published more than 70 papers, which include findings of a possible molten core on the moon and a method for predicting the variations in Earth’s rotation.

“Right now, I’m looking at changes in sea-level rise using data from the Jason and GRACE Earth satellites. There are pockets of warm ocean that explain why Earth’s sea-surface temperature was increasing at a lower rate,” says Dickey, referring to a previously unexplained hiatus in the otherwise strong uptick in surface air temperature. “It’s because the heat was going down deep in the ocean and was not accounted for.”

Data streams in from Earth satellites, airborne missions, and on-the-ground observations, and Dickey’s job is to make sense of it all. It’s a crucial part of understanding what’s happening on our home planet – and beyond.

Career trajectory:

Inspired early on by the success of the Sputnik satellite and the ensuing Space Race, and equipped with an affinity for maths and science, Dickey was the only one of six siblings to study science. When she graduated from Rutgers University in 1976 with a doctorate in physics, she was well accustomed to being the only woman in her classes and on research teams, but she never let that fact stop her.

She chose to specialise in high-energy particle physics, because as she describes it, “it was finding the essence, the basic building blocks of the universe. The quirks, colours and flavours.”

As a postdoc at Caltech, Dickey analysed data from particle experiments that were performed at Fermilab, a particle accelerator just outside of Chicago. She studied the dynamics of particle collisions and interpreted the findings, which meant using specialised software to analyse enormous data sets.

After three years at Caltech, she took on a new role at JPL analysing a much different set of data, but one that was no less intriguing. By studying the round-trip travel time of lasers shot between observatories on Earth and reflectors left on the moon by the Apollo astronauts, Dickey made new discoveries about how the moon oscillates and the Earth rotates, and how small variations can have big impacts on weather, sea level and even space exploration.

NASA's women
Dickey’s first job at JPL was analysing data from lunar-laser ranging experiments, in which lasers were shot between observatories on Earth (right) and reflectors on the moon left by the Apollo astronauts (left). Credits: NASA

It was a big change from particle physics, but Dickey was hooked.

“I was fascinated by Earth rotation and the processes ongoing here on Earth.”

Ever since, her research has revolved around the undulations, variations and wobbles that influence Earth’s climate, processes and its place in the solar system.

On STEM in pop culture:

“I like to see women in STEM portrayed as smart, caring people,” says Dickey. “I really dislike roles that show women as ‘space cadets,’ so to speak. I think we should be well represented in movies and in the culture.”

– Kim Orr

This article was first published by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. Read the original article here.

SkinSuit worn on Space Station

Australian-designed SkinSuit worn on Space Station

It’s a long way from Melbourne to outer space, but that’s how far a SkinSuit invented at RMIT for astronauts has travelled as it undergoes trials that are – quite simply – out of this world.

The brainchild of aerospace engineer, RMIT alumnus and senior research associate Dr James Waldie, the SkinSuit has been worn by an astronaut inside the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time.

Denmark’s first astronaut, Andreas Mogensen, spent 10 days in the ISS last month and pulled on the SkinSuit to test its effectiveness in the weightless conditions.

Inspired by the striking bodysuit worn by Cathy Freeman at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Waldie and his collaborators have spent more than 15 years getting the suit into space.

“Seeing live video of Andreas wearing SkinSuit on board the ISS was thrilling – I felt an enormous sense of achievement that my concept was finally in orbit,” Waldie said.

Skin-tight and made of bi-directional elastics, SkinSuit has been designed to mimic the impact of gravity on the body to reduce the debilitating physical effects space flights have on astronauts’ bodies.

In the weightless conditions in space, astronauts can lose up to 2% bone mass per month.  Their spines can also stretch by up to 7cms, with most suffering mild to debilitating pain.  Following flight, astronauts have four times the risk of herniated discs as the general population.

It was while watching the Sydney Olympics, and seeing Freeman in her distinctive, skin-tight running suit that Waldie first wondered if such an outfit could help mimic the conditions on the ground for astronauts in orbit.

“Given the impact of atrophy on astronauts in space, I wondered if a suit like the one worn by Freeman could fool the body into thinking it was on the ground rather than in space, and therefore stay healthy,” he said.

The special design of the suit means it can impose a gradual increase in vertical load from the wearer’s shoulders to their feet, simulating the loading regime normally imposed by bodyweight standing on earth.

For the ISS flight, the European Space Agency wanted to explore if the suit could counteract the effects of spaceflight on the spine.

“We believe if we can reduce spinal elongation in space, we can reduce the stress on the intervertebral discs,” Waldie said.

“This should help with pain in-flight, and the chances of slipped discs post-flight.”

The suit has undergone rigorous ground and parabolic flight trials before being selected for the ISS mission.  It also had to pass a spaceflight qualification programme.

As the inventor and a Principal Investigator, Waldie flew to the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, for the first on-orbit trial and was elated to see SkinSuit had finally been tested in space.

“It was really exciting but also very humbling, as there are so many people that have dedicated so much effort to this success. To share their passion, and see it all come to fruition, has been amazing.”

SkinSuit has been developed in collaboration with scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Kings College London and the European Space Agency.  The suit was manufactured by Italian firm Dainese, best known for producing motorbike leathers for racing.

Enjoying his first space flight, European Space Agency astronaut Mogensen tested SkinSuit over two days as part of an operational and technical evaluation.

He took frequent height measurements, comfort and mobility surveys, skin swabs for hygiene assessments, and also exercised with the suit on the station’s bicycle ergometer.

Mogensen has since returned to Earth but is yet to publicly report his findings as he undergoes extensive debriefing.

Waldie spent more time at ESA in Germany with his collaborators, workshopping further design, sizing and manufacturing refinements for SkinSuit with his RMIT colleagues Arun Vijayan and Associate Professor Lijing Wang from the School of Fashion and Textiles.

This article was first published by RMIT University. Read the original article here.

Featured photo by European Space Agency. European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen wearing the SkinSuit on board the International Space Station.