August 10, 2011

Hear ARISSat-1 talking from space!

On Wednesday, August 3rd, Sergei Volkov and Alexander Samokutyaev went for a walk. Not just your average stroll to the park mind you, Volkov and Samokutyaev are Expedition 28 Flight Engineers aboard the International Space Station. The two wouldn’t venture too far from the hatch on the Russian segment of ISS but during the six hour plus jaunt they circled Earth about four times at an altitude of 240 miles. These cosmonaut/handymen had quite a list of chores to take care of during their excursion. It wasn’t all fun and games.

577720main_iss028e020716_1600_800-600.jpg ISS Expedition crew members generally spend about six months aboard the orbiting complex for what must be an incredible adventure. I would go in a heartbeat but I expect that not being able to go “outside” for 180 days or more must be the only negative about such an assignment. So, I figure going out on an “EVA” (extra vehicular activity) must be a real highlight to be looked forward to with much anticipation.

Sergei and Alexander’s “to do” list included the installation of a laser communications system, re-location of a boom system which is used to move large objects around on the outside of the Russian segment, the deployment of a couple of material science experiments and the tossing overboard of a small ham radio satellite, ARISSat-1.

5437945742_0e80cb1f22.jpg Image left: Alexander Samokutyaev navigates ARISSat aboard ISS prior to the EVA

ARISSat-1 is an amateur radio educational outreach project which is part of NASA’s STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) program to foster interest in science and technology among the youth of the world. The satellite was built by AMSAT U.S. and launched aboard a Russian Progress cargo vehicle.
It is a box, about 2 feet square weighing about 50 pounds. Its carrying a ham radio transmitter/receiver, four cameras and a “vacuum of space” experiment which was developed by Kursk university in Russia. ARISSat broadcasts greetings in 15 languages, a “secret word”, digital images from its cameras and telemetry data on the satellite’s status and the Kursk experiment. The satellite’s amateur radio callsign is RS01S.

The coolest thing about ARISat-1 is that anyone with a scanner or simple ham radio “handie talkie” should be able to hear the voice greetings. Licensed amateurs can communicate through the satellite. With an “all mode” ham radio, a computer and some freeware images from the satellite’s cameras and telemetry data can be downloaded. Simply install the freeware, connect a cable from the radio’s headphone, line out or speaker jack to the computer sound card and run the software.

3198.jpg Left: An image from ARISSat-1. The RS01S callsign is visible in the upper left hand corner. This was downloaded by a radio amateur through the satellite. Courtesy AMSAT

Late in their spacewalk Wednesday afternoon following some questions as to whether ARISSat’s UHF antenna was in place the EVA 29 crew tossed the satellite overboard and it is now orbiting about a kilometer below ISS. Ham radio operators across the world have been listening, trying to catch the “secret word” and downloading images and telemetry data, myself included. I’ve captured telemetry data several times. The telemetry gives voltages, current, temperatures, power on the satellite’s solar panels and status of the various parts of the bird. Capturing an image has been a bit more challenging, but I have received part of a frame.

arissat-tlm-8-aug-11.JPG Left: Screen capture of telemetry data I captured during an ARISSat pass. The bar at the top is the morse code readout, below it the tuning spectrum display. Raw data file captures are displayed in the white box at the lower left and systems readout on the right. The top of the systems readout displays voltage and temperature of the satellite’s modules, the midsection the status of the various components. The six blocks at the bottom are status of each solar panel. K9GX photo

ARISSat’s transmitters are tiny. The data beacon is running just 1/10 watt. The FM beacon 1/4 watt.
For ARISSat pass times at your location, click the Heavens-Above link at the right and go to the “Amateur Radio Satellites” section. If you have a scanner radio, tune it to 145.950 FM, turn the squelch off and listen.

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Juno: Bound for Jupiter

Juno is on its way to Jupiter. The NASA/Southwest Research Institute mission spacecraft was launched just after noon on August 5th from the Cape Canaveral Air Force station, Florida. Juno will arrive at the giant planet in the summer of 2016 after a five year, 1.7 billion mile journey.

575562main_juno20110727-2-43_full.jpgImage: The Juno spacecraft is shown deploying its three solar arrays in this artist concept. Artist concept, NASA

Juno will swing back around Earth in 2013 for a little “gravity assist” slingshot that will hurl it out past Mars and the asteroid belt to Jupiter’s neighborhood. Once its out there it will make a long sweeping loop around Jove. This loop will save lots of energy and properly position the “bird” for it’s approach to the giant planet. Then it will slide into a highly elliptical, polar orbit which will take the it to within 3,000 miles of the planet’s clouds.

Juno will spend about a year skimming the Jovian cloud tops, taking readings of Jupiter’s magnetic field, measuring it’s gravity and trying to figure out how big it’s core is and deduce what it’s made of.

The Jovian environment is incredibly hostile. Its magnetic field is huge and its radiation intense. Jupiter’s magnetic field is so strong that it’s interaction with the Jovian moon Io is a dynamo which creates radio static that is audible here on Earth. After 33 eleven day orbits of Jupiter Juno will be commanded to make one last dive into the Jovian clouds in the planet’s northern hemisphere in the Spring of 2017.

So, what’s the interest in Jupiter? Jove is the biggest planet in our solar system. There’s more solar system “stuff” in Jupiter than all of the other planets, comets and asteroids combined. We don’t know what its made of, how deep the clouds go or how big it’s core is. If we can learn how much hydrogen, helium and oxygen is there we’ll learn how Jupiter was born. Some astronomers think it “grew up” out in the region of Neptune or Pluto and migrated to it’s current orbit. Other’s believe it was born where it is. Jupiter is also a curiosity because its more like a star than a planet.

“Jupiter is the Rosetta Stone of our solar system,” said Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “It is by far the oldest planet, contains more material than all the other planets, asteroids and comets combined, and carries deep inside it the story of not only the solar system but of us. Juno is going there as our emissary — to interpret what Jupiter has to say.”

Juno’s name comes from Greek and Roman mythology. The god Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief, and his wife, the goddess Juno, was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter’s true nature.

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August 3, 2011

August highlights

The month of August brings several celestial highlights. August 1st marked a “cross quarter” day or mid-point of summer. Two solar system bodies will reach opposition, asteroid Vesta on the 5th and planet Neptune the 22nd. At opposition bodies in the solar system rise at sunset and are ideally placed for viewing. The Perseid meteor shower peaks on the 13th, unfortunately the same day as the full Moon. The bright Grain Moon will wash out all but the brightest Perseids. The Moon is at first quarter on the 6th, last quarter the 21st and new the 29th. August evenings the heart of our galaxy, the Milky Way rises majestically out of the south above constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius.

7731fa242732a011f40e6a706700ad2d.jpgThe Summer Triangle, Vega, Deneb and Altair are on the meridian high overhead late evenings. This is the last month to catch Saturn in the evening sky to the southwest. Before dawn the Great Square of Pegasus, and Andromeda are high overhead, Jupiter dominates high in the south and our friend Orion rests above the eastern horizon to remind us winter will be here before we know it. I’ll have detailed info on all of these stories plus the Dawn mission to Vesta, Juno’s departure for Jupiter and an exciting new ham radio satellite project.

Saturday evening, August 20th, I’ll be hosting our monthly public star party at the LAS Baker Astronomy center in Crawford county, In. Hope to see you there!

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