SpaceX Dragon berths to ISS. Cargo includes over 20 student experiments

The SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft, launched last Sunday from the Kennedy Space Center, berthed today to the International Space Station. Astronauts on the station reached out with a robotic arm, snagged the Dragon, and then attached the craft to the station:

The Dragon carries over 5,000 pounds (2300 kg) of supplies, hardware, and research materials, including 21 experiments from students in grade school through high school who are participating in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program (SSEP) . This is the 9th SSEP mission to the ISS:

SSEP is a partnership of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE) and NanoRacks, LLC, a company that provides standardized experimental platforms on the ISS and also deploys small satellites into orbit from the station.

NanoRacks also co-sponsors DreamUp, a program to help young people crowd-fund, build, and launch experiments into space. The Dragon cargo included a DreamUp project: Another big DreamUp launch on SpaceX-10! — DreamUp

This was a really exciting launch for the team at DreamUp as we had the fantastic V3PO students fly all the way from Germany to join us for the launch. These students crowd-funded their plant-growth research project and got some great advisors on board, including Airbus and BASF Crop Protection. With the team put together, the students commenced their vegetative plant propagation.

Learn more about the plant growth experiment here.

All together, DreamUp was able to bring over 55 student researchers and advisors to this launch. We really saw our students’ perseverance when on the first planned launch date…the launch was scrubbed with just 13 seconds to go! They held on to all of their excitement and brought it to the launch the following day, with big smiles and loud cheers as they saw the rocket go up, holding on tight to their experiments.

The V3PO team receiving their DreamUp Wings certificates with the view of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) in the background. Photo credits DreamUp

DreamUp plans for more student experiments going to space in the year ahead: DreamUp Launches in 2017! — DreamUp

Last year alone, we launched over 60 educational payloads to space on five different rockets, designed by student researchers from 7 different countries. We’ve also grown our myLAUNCH and DreamUp graduation programs – offering 50 students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend a rocket launch and honoring over 100 DreamUp graduates with certificates to celebrate their incredible achievements and welcome them to our growing alumni community. 

Part of DreamUp’s core mission is to immerse students and educators at every level of education in the wonder of outer space through engaging programs that highlight the multifaceted applications of STEM skills and the growing opportunities in the global space industry.  In 2016, we produced and released our first-ever, completely free, curriculum for educators.  Located on our website, the “Eye in the Sky” curriculum was developed in partnership with Jenny Pieratt at CraftED and incorporates space-based data and images to help students determine whether the Earth is a just planet.  All are welcome to download and use this Next Generation Science Standard-compliant resource at no cost, but if you do, please send us feedback so we can incorporate your thoughts in our next curriculum release!

Looking ahead, we foresee a very active 2017. As we implement the first-ever DreamUp Challenge, realize partnership agreements with some of the largest school districts in the country, and invite more and more student researchers to experience the wonder of rocket launches, DreamUp will continue to improve our services as the leading provider for experiential learning in space. 

Video of Panel discussion of exoplanets around TRAPPIST-1 + Travel poster

Here is a video of the NASA panel discussion of the findings by an international team of the TRAPPIST-1 star system with 7 earth sized exoplanets (see earlier posting here).

The briefing participants included:

  • Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington
  • Michael Gillon, astronomer at the University of Liege in Belgium
  • Sean Carey, manager of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC, Pasadena, California
  • Nikole Lewis, astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore
  • Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge

Here is NASA’s announcement of the discovery: NASA Telescope Reveals Record-Breaking Exoplanet Discovery

Check out the cool travel poster for TRAPPIST-1:

ESO: 7 Earth-sized worlds found in dwarf star system – 3 in habitable zone

ESO makes a big announcement about a dwarf star with lots of earth-sized planets:

Ultracool Dwarf and the Seven Planets
Temperate Earth-sized Worlds Found in
Extraordinarily Rich Planetary System

This artist’s impression shows the view from the surface of one of the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. At least seven planets orbit this ultra cool dwarf star 40 light-years from Earth and they are all roughly the same size as the Earth. They are at the right distances from their star for liquid water to exist on the surfaces of several of them. This artist’s impression is based on the known physical parameters for the planets and stars seen, and uses a vast database of objects in the Universe. [Full size image]
Astronomers have found a system of seven Earth-sized planets just 40 light-years away. Using ground and space telescopes, including ESO’s Very Large Telescope, the planets were all detected as they passed in front of their parent star, the ultracool dwarf star known as TRAPPIST-1. According to the paper appearing today in the journal Nature, three of the planets lie in the habitable zone and could harbour oceans of water on their surfaces, increasing the possibility that the star system could play host to life. This system has both the largest number of Earth-sized planets yet found and the largest number of worlds that could support liquid water on their surfaces.

Astronomers using the TRAPPIST–South telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope, as well as other telescopes around the world [1], have now confirmed the existence of at least seven small planets orbiting the cool red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 [2]. All the planets, labelled TRAPPIST-1b, c, d, e, f, g and h in order of increasing distance from their parent star, have sizes similar to Earth [3].

This diagram compares the sizes of the newly-discovered planets around the faint red star TRAPPIST-1 with the Galilean moons of Jupiter and the inner Solar System. All the planets found around TRAPPIST-1 are of similar size to the Earth. [Full size image.]
Dips in the star’s light output caused by each of the seven planets passing in front of it — events known as transits — allowed the astronomers to infer information about their sizes, compositions and orbits [4]. They found that at least the inner six planets are comparable in both size and temperature to the Earth.

This diagram shows the changing brightness of the ultra cool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 over a period of 20 days in September and October 2016 as measured by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and many other telescopes on the ground. On many occasions the brightness of the star drops for a short period and then returns to normal. These events, called transits, are due to one or more of the star’s seven planets passing in front of the star and blocking some of its light. The lower part of the diagram shows which of the system’s planets are responsible for the transits. [Full size image]

Lead author Michaël Gillon of the STAR Institute at the University of Liège in Belgium is delighted by the findings:

“This is an amazing planetary system — not only because we have found so many planets, but because they are all surprisingly similar in size to the Earth!”

With just 8% the mass of the Sun, TRAPPIST-1 is very small in stellar terms — only marginally bigger than the planet Jupiter — and though nearby in the constellation Aquarius (The Water Carrier), it appears very dim. Astronomers expected that such dwarf stars might host many Earth-sized planets in tight orbits, making them promising targets in the hunt for extraterrestrial life, but TRAPPIST-1 is the first such system to be found.

Co-author Amaury Triaud expands:

“The energy output from dwarf stars like TRAPPIST-1 is much weaker than that of our Sun. Planets would need to be in far closer orbits than we see in the Solar System if there is to be surface water. Fortunately, it seems that this kind of compact configuration is just what we see around TRAPPIST-1!”

The team determined that all the planets in the system are similar in size to Earth and Venus in the Solar System, or slightly smaller. The density measurements suggest that at least the innermost six are probably rocky in composition.

This infographic displays some artist’s illustrations of how the seven planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 might appear — including the possible presence of water oceans — alongside some images of the rocky planets in our Solar System. Information about the size and orbital periods of all the planets is also provided for comparison; the TRAPPIST-1 planets are all approximately Earth-sized. [Full sized image]
The planetary orbits are not much larger than that of Jupiter’s Galilean moon system, and much smaller than the orbit of Mercury in the Solar System. However, TRAPPIST-1’s small size and low temperature mean that the energy input to its planets is similar to that received by the inner planets in our Solar System; TRAPPIST-1c, d and f receive similar amounts of energy to Venus, Earth and Mars, respectively.

This diagram compares the orbits of the newly-discovered planets around the faint red star TRAPPIST-1 with the Galilean moons of Jupiter and the inner Solar System. All the planets found around TRAPPIST-1 orbit much closer to their star than Mercury is to the Sun, but as their star is far fainter, they are exposed to similar levels of irradiation as Venus, Earth and Mars in the Solar System. [Full size image ]
All seven planets discovered in the system could potentially have liquid water on their surfaces, though their orbital distances make some of them more likely candidates than others. Climate models suggest the innermost planets, TRAPPIST-1b, c and d, are probably too hot to support liquid water, except maybe on a small fraction of their surfaces. The orbital distance of the system’s outermost planet, TRAPPIST-1h, is unconfirmed, though it is likely to be too distant and cold to harbour liquid water — assuming no alternative heating processes are occurring [5]. TRAPPIST-1e, f, and g, however, represent the holy grail for planet-hunting astronomers, as they orbit in the star’s habitable zone and could host oceans of surface water [6].

This diagram compares the orbits of the newly-discovered planets around the faint red star TRAPPIST-1 with the Galilean moons of Jupiter and the inner Solar System. All the planets found around TRAPPIST-1 orbit much closer to their star than Mercury is to the Sun, but as their star is far fainter, they are exposed to similar levels of irradiation as Venus, Earth and Mars in the Solar System. [Full size image]
These new discoveries make the TRAPPIST-1 system a very important target for future study. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is already being used to search for atmospheres around the planets and team member Emmanuël Jehin is excited about the future possibilities:

“With the upcoming generation of telescopes, such as ESO’s European Extremely Large Telescope and the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope, we will soon be able to search for water and perhaps even evidence of life on these worlds.”

This video takes the viewer on a quick trip from Earth, past the Moon and far beyond. We finally arrive at the faint red ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1, which has a remarkable seven planets orbiting it, all having sizes similar to the Earth.

The stars in the animation are accurately positioned as in reality. The tiny ultracool dwarf TRAPPIST-1 is so dim that it would remain invisible to the naked eye until the imaginary traveller gets very close, when its seven orbiting planets can also be seen.

The artist’s impression in this video is based on the known physical parameters for the planets and stars seen, and uses a vast database of objects in the Universe. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/


[1] As well as the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope, the team used many ground-based facilities: TRAPPIST–South at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, HAWK-I on ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile,  TRAPPIST–North in Morocco, the 3.8-metre UKIRT in Hawaii, the 2-metre Liverpool and 4-metre William Herschel telescopes at La Palma in the Canary Islands, and the 1-metre SAAO telescope in South Africa.

[2] TRAPPIST–South (the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope–South) is a Belgian 0.6-metre robotic telescope operated from the University of Liège and based at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. It spends much of its time monitoring the light from around 60 of the nearest ultracool dwarf stars and brown dwarfs (“stars” which are not quite massive enough to initiate sustained nuclear fusion in their cores), looking for evidence of planetary transits. TRAPPIST–South, along with its twin TRAPPIST–North, are the forerunners to the SPECULOOS system, which is currently being installed at ESO’s Paranal Observatory.

[3] In early 2016, a team of astronomers, also led by Michaël Gillon announced the discovery of three planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1. They intensified their follow-up observations of the system mainly because of a remarkable triple transit that they observed with the HAWK-I instrument on the VLT. This transit showed clearly that at least one other unknown planet was orbiting the star. And that historic light curve shows for the first time three temperate Earth-sized planets, two of them in the habitable zone, passing in front of their star at the same time!

[4] This is one of the main methods that astronomers use to identify the presence of a planet around a star. They look at the light coming from the star to see if some of the light is blocked as the planet passes in front of its host star on the line of sight to Earth — it transits the star, as astronomers say. As the planet orbits around its star, we expect to see regular small dips in the light coming from the star as the planet moves in front of it.

[5] Such processes could include tidal heating, whereby the gravitational pull of TRAPPIST-1 causes the planet to repeatedly deform, leading to inner frictional forces and the generation of heat. This process drives the active volcanism on Jupiter’s moon Io. If TRAPPIST-1h has also retained a primordial hydrogen-rich atmosphere, the rate of heat loss could be very low.

[6] This discovery also represents the largest known chain of exoplanets orbiting in near-resonance with each other. The astronomers carefully measured how long it takes for each planet in the system to complete one orbit around TRAPPIST-1 — known as the revolution period — and then calculated the ratio of each planet’s period and that of its next more distant neighbour. The innermost six TRAPPIST-1 planets have period ratios with their neighbours that are very close to simple ratios, such as 5:3 or 3:2. This means that the planets most likely formed together further from their star, and have since moved inwards into their current configuration. If so, they could be low-density and volatile-rich worlds, suggesting an icy surface and/or an atmosphere.


Sci-Tech: BLITAB tactile tablet for the blind and visually impaired

The touch tablet computer display for the blind is one of those devices that I was sure must already exist in our high-tech world but in fact it does not. However, BLITAB®  of Austria is not only bringing one to market but at a reasonable price, something that is fairly uncommon for such aids for the handicapped: This $500 Tablet Brings Words to Blind Users’ Fingertips – Technology Review   

BLITAB describes the device as follows:

BLITAB® is the World’s first tactile tablet for blind and visually impaired people. BLITAB® is a next curve Braille device for Braille reading and writing that displays one whole page Braille text at once, without any mechanical elements. It is like an e-book which instead of using a screen displays small physical bubbles. For the first time our users can have an overview of a whole document. The new developed technology used in the BLITAB® tablet provides an opportunity for an affordable, 100x better solution, disrupting a market that has no innovations in the last 40 years.

We developed a multi-line Braille tablet that delivers real-time content to people with visual impairments. BLITAB® offers completely new user experience for Braille and non-Braille readers via touch navigation, text-to-speech output and Perkins-style keyboard application. It allows a direct converting of any text file into Braille from USB sticks, Internet and obtaining information via NFC tags. BLITAB® is not just a tablet, it is a platform for all existing and future software applications for blind readers. So we do not compete, we integrate and collaborate.


Video: TMRO – Orbit 10.07 – Everyday Astronauting posts its latest program: Erday Astronauting – Orbit 10.07 – TMRO

We bring back Tim Dodd the Everyday Astronaut to talk about Science, Technology Engineering, Art and Math as well as how he works to inspire youth.

In space news:

Planet (not Labs anymore) Satellite deployments –…
List of Landing Sites for Next Mars Rover Narrowed
Small Satellite Rocket Booster Arrives at New Zealand’s First Launch Site
Group Effort Finds More Than 100 Exoplanet
CubeCab looking to launch small sats
NRO Payload Mounted For West Coast Launch

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