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Here is the latest episode in NASA’s Space to Ground weekly report on activities related to the International Space Station:
** Some Space News – ISS/NASA Johnson
Space Anchor Chris Cassidy is here to deliver Some Space News🌠 It’s a big week for the crew on the International Space Station! They’ve had some dynamic operations on Station, and there’s more to come with the awaited arrival of NASA Astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on the SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle. Stay tuned for more space news and watch #LaunchAmerica Saturday May 30 at 3:22pm ET!
** Down to Earth – Some Place Special – NASA Johnson
“It is heart-stopping, it is soul-pounding, it is breathtaking.” In this episode of “Down to Earth – Some Place Special,” NASA Astronaut and Flight Director TJ Creamer discusses the impact of viewing the Earth’s natural wonders from space. #SpaceStation20th
** HTV-9 capture – SciNews
JAXA’s H-II Transfer Vehicle “KOUNOTORI9” (HTV-9) was captured with the International Space Station’s robotic Canadarm2 by Expedition 63 Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA, with assistance from Russian Flight Engineer Ivan Vagner of Roscosmos, on 25 May 2020, at 12:13 UTC 08:13 EDT. Kounotori 9 (こうのとり9) , meaning white stork in Japanese, was launched by JAXA’s H-IIB Launch Vehicle No. 9 (H-IIB F9, ロケット9) from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex, at JAXA’s Tanegashima Space Center, Japan, on 20 May 2020, at 17:31 UTC (21 May, at 02:31 Japan Standard Time – JST) and delivers a total of 6.2 metric tons of supplies, including six new lithium-ion batteries, to the International Space Station.
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… you are asked to develop an algorithm to detect Geostationary orbiting objects from simple png images (or frames) acquired by an unknown, low-cost ground-based telescope. Can you learn on how to cope with cloud cover, atmospheric/weather effects, light pollution, sensor noise/defects, star occlusions and more?
The start date is June 8, 2020. Here’s the official announcement from ESA:
ESA’s latest public competition challenges ‘citizen scientists’ to combine AI with observations from low-cost telescopes to pick out mystery objects in and around geostationary orbit, thousands of kilometres above Earth.
Geostationary orbit is also known as the ‘Clarke belt’ – science fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke forecast it back in 1945. The further up that satellites orbit, the slower they need to travel to overcome Earth’s gravity. Orbiting at approximately 36 000 km altitude directly above the equator, satellite velocity precisely matches Earth’s rotation, enabling them hover above the same spots in the sky.
The result has been called the most valuable real estate in our solar system: a 265 000 km ring of telecommunications, meteorology and other satellites around our planet, carefully regulated by the International Telecommunication Union.
Despite its economic value however, geostationary orbit – as well as adjacent ‘geosynchronous’ orbits – must contend with the same problems of space debris also seen in lower orbits. ESA and other space agencies perform regular monitoring to identify and track potentially-hazardous debris items. This is usually done using either high-power radar or high-performance astronomical telescopes.
“Geostationary orbit is generally well managed and documented, partly because of its immense practical and commercial value,” notes Tat-Jun Chin of the University of Adelaide, partnering with ESA on the competition. “However, precisely because of that value we should put more efforts into further understanding and protecting it.”
Dario Izzo of ESA’s Advanced Concepts Team (ACT) adds:
“So, for our new ‘spotGEO’ competition, we want to see how well low-cost telescopes combined with tailored AI algorithms can identify ‘resident space objects’ at these altitudes.”
Competition entrants will receive a dataset made up of sets of five sequential images of unspecified segments of the geostationary belt, then challenged to pick out artificial objects against the surrounding stars.
In theory this is made easier because such objects will remain static (or nearly static) compared to the background starfield, which appears to move because of Earth’s rotation. In practice, with atmospheric distortion and an approximately 40-second exposure time for each single image the objects will be smeared out and dimmed. Clouds, light pollution and sensor noise also add to the challenge.
“The sheer distance between the observer and the target objects makes this a difficult problem,” adds Dario.
“Each pixel observed at this altitude corresponds to an arc length of about 800 m – so the objects of interest are much smaller than a single pixel. But success should help us keep better watch on this essential region of space around our planet.”
Tat-Jun Chin and his team made contact with the ACT after winning the Pose Estimation Challenge, their previous space-themed AI competition, on estimating the orientation of distant satellites from a dataset of still images.
“Deep learning algorithms can be trained through such datasets to detect visual features of interest,” he notes. “Researchers in AI – particularly computer vision and machine learning – understand that having common datasets is vital towards making progress. These allow different methods to be compared objectively, so that the community can learn the best practices then apply them for their respective problems.
“Generally speaking, sharing datasets in space research is not so common, but the excellent Kelvins competitions are changing this, and after getting to know the ACT we decided to contribute our own.”
The University of Adelaide team coincidentally acquired these images during an observing campaign during the last Australian summer, so that forest fire smoke adds to the observing difficulty.
This is the latest competition hosted at the ACT’s Kelvins website, named after the temperature unit of measurement – with the idea that competitors should aim to reach the lowest possible error, as close as possible to absolute zero. The spotGEO dataset will be available there from 8 June, at the start of the three-month competition.
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6:20 pm EDT: The launch was scrubbed at about 15 minutes before liftoff time due to violations of weather constraints. The clouds were starting to clear but not in time for the instantaneous launch window.
The next launch opportunity is on Saturday at 3:22 p.m. EDT (19:22 UTC). Followed by Sunday, May 31 at 3:00 p.m. EDT (19:00 UTC).
2:01 pm EDT: The launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley in a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station is set for 4:33 pm (EDT) today at Kennedy Space Center . The weather forecast currently gives a 50% chance of acceptable conditions for liftoff from Pad 39A during the instantaneous launch window. (There are also storms along the US East Coast where the capsule would need to land in an abort.) If they don’t get off the ground today, the next opportunities will be on Saturday and Sunday.
SpaceX and NASA are providing joint continuous coverage of the preparations for the liftoff:
Some other videos of interest:
** SpaceX Demo-2: Watch NASA astronauts launch to space for the first time on Crew Dragon – NASASpaceflight.com
** LIVE only 3 miles away from SpaceX and NASA launching humans to space for the first time! – Everyday Astronaut (Tim Dodd)
** Talking to Elon Musk and Jim Bridenstine about SpaceX’s first crewed launch! – Everyday Astronaut (Tim Dodd)
I had the opportunity to meet up with SpaceX CEO, Founder and Chief Engineer, Elon Musk as well as NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine to get their thoughts on this new era of human spaceflight! We spoke in the historic Firing Room 4 at Kennedy Space Center where SpaceX will command the rocket to launch for Demonstration Mission 2 with Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley!
** SpaceX Demonstration Mission-1 Highlights – NASA – An uncrewed Dragon was launched to the ISS on March 2, 2019
Demonstration Mission-1 (Demo-1) was an uncrewed flight test designed to demonstrate a new commercial capability developed under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. The mission began March 2, when the Crew Dragon launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and racked up a number of “firsts” in less than a week. First commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft and rocket to launch from American soil on a mission to the space station. First commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft to dock with the space station. First autonomous docking of a U.S. spacecraft to the International Space Station. First use of a new, global design standard for the adapters that connect the space station and Crew Dragon, and also will be used for the Orion spacecraft for NASA’s future mission to the Moon. NASA and SpaceX teams gathered in the early morning hours at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, to follow the spacecraft’s return journey and ocean splashdown.
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A sampling of links to recent space policy, politics, and government (US and international) related space news and resource items that I found of interest (find previous space policy roundups here):
** The Space Show – Fri. 05/22/2020 – Cristina T. Chaplain “who is now a retired GAO director focusing on space, defense and related industries. Don’t miss this excellent assessment of NASA, DOD, PPP and more”.
** E16 – Value of Space (with Mick Gleason and Sam Wilson) – Aerospace CSPS on Vimeo – A multi-participant discussion of the recent Value of Space (pdf) report from the Aerospace Corp.
** Why Did NASA’s Head Of Human Spaceflight Resign Just Before Historic Launch? – Scott Manley
Last Monday NASA announced that Doug Loverro, head of human spaceflight at NASA was resigning only 6 months after starting the job, and just over a week before the historic return to flight for the human spaceflight program. We know it’s not related to the Commercial Crew Program and is going to have no effect on the upcoming launch, but we don’t have much in the way of concrete information to go on. Right now the theory is that this is related to the procurement of the Human landing system, but we could be wrong.
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