Category Archives: Space participation

Project Blue: Crowd-funded space telescope aims to image exoplanet

Project Blue at the BoldlyGo Institute 

is a new science initiative to capture the first photograph of a potential Earth-like planet orbiting another Sun-like star. The mission aims to launch a lightweight space telescope to directly image exoplanets around Earth’s nearest star system, Alpha Centauri A and B.

With a budget the fraction of the cost of a mid-size astrophysics mission, and a planned launch by the end of the decade, this venture represents an ambitious leap forward in low-cost, high-impact space exploration.

Through active collaboration between research institutions, universities, private industry and citizens, Project Blue seeks to make space exploration a participatory, collective endeavor and inspire millions worldwide to engage in scientific inquiry.

The key technology will be a coronagraph that blocks the otherwise blinding light of the star and allows the planet’s far weaker reflected light to be observed:

Project Blue will place a state-of-the-art exoplanet imaging telescope into orbit. The instrument will be equipped with advanced high contrast imaging technologies embedded in a coronagraph with a deformable mirror, multi-star wavefront control, and specialized post-processing techniques.

Together they can efficiently suppress the light from both stars (Alpha Centauri A and B) separately, thus allowing any planets to be seen. Our team has extensive experience developing and testing these technologies — now it’s time to get them into space!

More details of the space telescope are described here.

Alpha Centauri A and B were chosen because:

  • Unusual proximity: At only 4.37 light years distance, Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to us, and contains not just one, but two stars similar to our Sun. The next Sun-like star is located 2.5x further away and would require a telescope 2.5 times larger in size.
  • Accessible Habitable Zone: Its proximity allows us to observe the habitable zone of each star for Earth-like planets with a modest space telescope with a powerful coronagraph, while any other star requires telescopes of at least 1 meter in size.
  • Fertile ground: Proxima Centauri, which is thought to be part of the same system, is now known to have a potentially habitable planet. We are acting on a new scientific urgency to investigate our nearest Sun-like stars!

The goal is to launch the privately funded observatory in 2019.

To sign up for email updates and/or to donate to the project, see Get Involved.

Follow developments at

Some articles about the project:

Update: Here is the official press release about the project:

The Push to Photograph Earth-Like Planet Begins With Launch of Project Blue
BoldlyGo Institute and Mission Centaur to Lead Consortium of Prominent Organizations Including the SETI Institute and University of Massachusetts Lowell to Reach the Next Great Milestone of Space Exploration

SAN FRANCISCO, CA–(Marketwired – Oct 11, 2016) – A consortium of prominent science and research institutions led by BoldlyGo Institute and Mission Centaur today announced Project Blue, an endeavor for a new era of discovery and space exploration. Employing recent technological advances, Project Blue is designed to be the first mission capable of obtaining an image of another planet like Earth — a powerful next step to understanding and exploring worlds outside our solar system. This new kind of privately-led, non-profit space initiative unites an extraordinary range of experts, including teams from the SETI Institute and the University of Massachusetts Lowell, on a daunting scientific and technical challenge.

Project Blue will work to fund, build and launch a compact exoplanet imaging telescope aimed at Alpha Centauri — the closest star system to Earth — to determine whether Earth-like planets exist around it and if so, to capture a direct “pale blue dot” image. While NASA’s Kepler mission has shown that terrestrial-sized planets are common in our galaxy, no one has yet been able to take a picture of one as small as Earth, in an orbit that could potentially sustain life. Project Blue would be the first. The mission will take about three years to construct and will conduct an intensive two-year study once in orbit.

“Now is the time to embark on this mission. Scientific imperative and technological advancements have converged to a point where we can finally take a serious look at our closest neighbor, Alpha Centauri,” said Jon Morse, CEO of BoldlyGo Institute. “Does it contain rocky planets? Do they have oceans and atmospheres? Could they conceivably support life? We launched Project Blue because we believe such a discovery would profoundly impact humankind’s understanding of the universe and spur a new wave of excitement in science and astronomy.”

Seeing Blue

Recent developments, including the extraordinary success of the Kepler mission and advances in optics and imaging technologies, have laid the groundwork for Project Blue. Kepler has discovered over 2300 confirmed exoplanets through indirect observation techniques, many of which scientists believe could have Earth-like characteristics. Imaging one directly is an achievement that would open a new path to detecting and characterizing possible life-sustaining worlds around nearby stars.

An Earth-like planet is characterized as 0.5 to 1.5 times the size of Earth and orbiting within the host star’s “habitable zone,” where the temperature could allow liquid water to exist on the planet’s surface. Such a planet with oceans and an atmosphere similar to Earth, unless obscured by clouds, could appear blue to the human eye.

Project Blue’s customized telescope will be mounted on an optimized commercial spacecraft and specifically focus on Alpha Centauri, allowing it to maintain modest size and cost compared to larger astrophysics missions. The spacecraft will conduct its study of the Alpha Centauri system from a special north-south, low-Earth orbit that provides the stable conditions necessary for such precise measurements.

Despite Alpha Centauri’s proximity, there is currently no telescope with high enough contrast capability to observe orbiting planets directly; detecting an Earth-sized planet next to its host star has been compared to detecting a firefly next to a lighthouse from ten miles away. Additionally, Alpha Centauri’s binary structure makes it a particularly challenging target. Since the system’s two stars, Alpha Centauri A and B, appear so close together in the night sky, observation requires a special approach to suppress both light sources to see any orbiting planets.

“What makes the Alpha Centauri system so attractive is that each of the two stars is a lot like our own sun, which gives us two chances to find planets in either of their habitable zones,” said Supriya Chakrabarti, professor in the Department of Physics and Applied Physics at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and director of its Lowell Center for Space Science and Technology. “This also gives us an opportunity to design a mission that leverages technology we’ve been developing and space qualifying in our NASA-supported programs.”

The Blue Moment

Beyond pioneering a range of cutting-edge technologies, Project Blue represents a new kind of endeavor: a privately-funded partnership of research organizations, universities and industry aiming to play a leadership role in space science. With BoldlyGo Institute and Mission Centaur at the helm, a number of leading institutions will partner on the project, with the list expected to grow.

“We’re excited to be an original member of this distinguished consortium working on this seminal project,” said Bill Diamond, President and CEO of the SETI Institute. “The SETI Institute has accumulated world-class scientific and technical expertise from previous space missions that we can contribute to make Project Blue a success.”

The partnership will combine its expertise to design, construct and operate the mission. Launch services will be provided by one of several commercial vendors expected to be proven by the time of launch.

About BoldlyGo Institute: The BoldlyGo Institute is based in New York and was founded to address highly compelling scientific questions through new approaches to developing space science missions while engaging the global community in the quest. The organization is led by a highly qualified and reputable Board of Directors, comprised of space scientists, engineers and explorers. Board members have decades of combined space involvement, including more than a decade of recent, senior leadership experience across NASA, specializing in spaceflight and the development of space hardware.

About Mission Centaur: Mission Centaur is a nonprofit organization that fosters public and private collaboration through Project Blue, an initiative seeking to find and capture the first image of an Earth-like planet in our neighboring star system Alpha Centauri. Mission Centaur was founded by a group of philanthropists, scientists and engineers to pursue one of humanity’s most ambitious and transformational space exploration missions.

Brooke Owens Fellowship Program offers internships for women in aviation and space

The Brooke Owens Fellowship Program aims to encourage more women to seek aerospace careers:

The Brooke Owens Fellowship Program offers paid internships at leading aviation and space companies and organizations for passionate, exceptional women seeking their undergraduate degree.

Created to honor the legacy of a beloved space industry pioneer and accomplished pilot, Dawn Brooke Owens (1980 – 2016), the Brooke Owens Fellowship Program is designed to serve both as an inspiration and as a career boost to capable young women who, like Brooke, aspire to explore our sky and stars, to shake up the aerospace industry, and to help their fellow men and women here on planet Earth.

For application info, go to How to Apply.

Now Accepting Applications! All Applications Due December 5, 2016

brookef-181
Brooke Owens (Image credits the The Brooke Owens Fellowship Program)

Find more about the program at Fellowships will boost women in aerospace – Alan Boyle/Geekwire

Space mining CEO & OSIRIS-REx scientist to host Google Hangout to talk about asteroids and Xtronaut game

Chris Lewicki of the  asteroid mining company Planetary Resources and Prof. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona and a scientist on the OSIRIS-REx asteroid mission (see earlier posting) will host a Google Hangout at 11:00 am PT (2:00 pm ET, 6:00 pm GMT) on Friday: Chris Lewicki & Dante Lauretta talk about asteroids, launches, and Xtronaut: The Game of Solar System Exploration! – Google+.

Do you like playing board games? Do you like STEM education? Have you ever wanted to plan your own mission to space? Then you will love this!

You are invited to a Google Hangout on Air to learn about an amazing new game that mixes fun, STEM and space all together on one board.

Xtronaut: The Game of Solar System Exploration captures the challenges and fun of planning a space mission and combines real rocket science with mission planning, strategy, politics, and interactive play. We have been playing this game in the office and can assure you it is JUST like planning a real mission!

The game was envisioned by Planetary Resources advisor, Dante Lauretta, Ph.D. Dante is a Professor at the University of Arizona, Principal Investigator of the NASA OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission, and founder of Xtronaut.

During the hangout, our President and CEO Chris Lewicki will challenge Dante to a game, and discuss the exciting developments in asteroid science and exploration with the upcoming launches of OSIRIS-REx and our Arkyd 6.

Sign up to participate: RSVP for the Hangout by clicking here.

You can also purchase Xtronaut: The Game of Solar System Exploration on Amazon.com.

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Video: The story of the $50SAT Eagle2 pocketqube

Here is another video from the Electromagnetic Field event held in Guildford, UK earlier this summer (see previous posts A hacker’s guide to satellites and … An Intro to Rockets). Stuart Robinson tells the story of the $50Sat Eagle2 satellite that was launched to orbit in 2013:

More info about the project:

The PocketQube Shop sells components for the PocketQube satellite standard.

See also the HobbySpace Satellite Building  section on student and amateur satellites.

Here is a video of the launch of the Russian Dnepr rocket, a converted ICBM, on which the $50Sat got a free ride:

 

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Video: Dave Rowntree (Blur drummer) gives “A hacker’s guide to satellites”

An intro to amateur satellite radio: Ham radio satellites at EMF –  Southgate Amateur Radio News –

Dave Rowntree 2E0DRV, drummer in the rock-band Blur, gave a presentation on amateur radio satellites at the Electromagnetic Field event in Guildford

Talk description: There are about a dozen communications satellites orbiting the earth that were designed and built by teams of amateur enthusiasts. Dave talks about what they are, how they got there, and how you can build simple equipment to listen to their transmissions.

Check out the HobbySpace Satellite Building and Space Radio sections for more info and web resources on the making of and radio communications with amateur satellites. (These sections need updating but still have lots of useful material.)

There is also a new AMSAT guide on amateur satellites: