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Space Science
Amateur, Student, and Privately Supported Space Science ...

A team with the Mars Analog Desert Research Station project carries out
a simulated Mars EVA excursion. MDRS Images.

Space Science is a relatively new science that focuses on understanding the planets, moons, asteroids, comets and other objects and phenomena within our solar system (although this should eventually include extrasolar planets). Planetary Science obviously falls within the space science rubric and focuses on planets within the solar system, with a special emphasis on the "geology" of Mars and the other inner planets.

Space science is distinct from the other cosmos-related sciences. Astronomy generally involves the observation of celestial phenomena.

Astrophysics concentrates on understanding the fundamental processes of celestial phenomena such as the workings of stars and galaxies. Cosmology looks at the birth, life and death of the universe as a whole.

Space science, in particular, concentrates on the macro-sciences such as the geology, meterology, chemistry, and, perhaps, biology in our solar system.

Space science really came into its own with the development of spacecraft that could go out and directly investigate phenomena near the earth and out in the solar system.

Amateurs can participate in space science in several ways such as on-line data analysis, satellite data analysis, Mars exploration simulations, etc..

The ultimate amateur space science participation comes via direct interaction with space probes exploring our solar system and with rovers exploring them.

A few opportunities for this participation have already occurred and more and more will happen as space exploration continues, especially with the increasing number of Mars missions.

This section also includes many topics involving near-earth and solar system based phenomena, e.g. meteor show observation, aurora investigation, etc., that might be expected to reside in the Astronomy section. However, the sciences involved go under the space science umbrella and also these topics match well with the HobbySpace emphasis on our own solar system and our interaction with it.

In addition to basic science research, we include here efforts by amateur groups also to develop technology for exploring and developing the solar system, .

Note: that the Satellite Watching section includes astronomy/space science related information and links such as tracking programs, utilities and references. Also, see the offline and online software sections.

Recent articles about amateur and privately supported space science

See the archive for previous articles...

News Sources

Amateur/Privately Supported Space Science Projects
Mars on Earth: The People Who Are Already Living On the Red Planet, No Spaceship Required
- Motherboard - Sept.14.10

The sky is big enough for amateurs and independent space advocacy organizations to make significant discoveries even in this day of billion dollar research programs. Here are some projects involving amateurs and non-governmental participants that promise to make significant contributions to science and to the technology needed to make scientific discoveries.

Devon Island Mars Analog Studies: Haughton-Mars Project
Haughton crater on Devon Island in the Canadian Arctic region has become the focal point for those interesting in finding a close analog on Earth to Mars. Numerous research groups land on the isolated island each summer to carry out various scientific and technological projects.

The Haughton-Mars Project is supported by NASA and managed by the SETI Institute and the Mars Institute.

"Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) is a multidisciplinary investigation to study the Haughton crater on Devon Island, Northwest Territories, in the Canadian arctic. The HMP typically takes place June through July, ...] by studying the Haughton crater and it's surroundings, we hope to learn more about Mars, the Earth's geologic past, a cosmic phenomenon (impact cratering) that has in the past catastrophically altered the course of the Earth's evolution, and an extreme environment in one of the most rarely visited corners of our planet. While investigating Haughton, we will also learn how to best explore Mars, by testing robotic and human exploration technologies and strategies, and by optimizing interactions between the two."

The project has now completed several summer missions. See the History of the H-M Project. More info available in the following:

Devon Island Mars Analog Studies: Flashline Mars Arctic Station
The Mars Society is supporting the Flashline Mars Arctic Station , which is separate form the Haughton-Mars Project, as a testing ground for techniques to use for Mars exploration. Flashline.com became a sponsor for the station and also Discovery.com got involved as well.

Flashline M.A.R.S. Design Interactive - explore the Devon Island habitat structure.

Mars Desert Research Station - Mars Society
Another of the Mars Society bases under development. It will be located in the American southwest in the fall of 2001. While the Devon Island base will operate in the summer, this base

"..will support field operations during the fall, winter, and spring. Together, the two stations will act as laboratories supporting a year-round program for learning how to live and work on Mars, offering researchers the opportunity to conduct systematic studies of the strategies, technologies, human factors and hardware designs necessary to prepare for the human exploration of Mars." - Mars Society

During the winter of 2002, the base is stationed in the desert west of Hanksville, Utah. The landscape includes "Jurassic sedimentary rocks that look as much like Mars as one could desire, and whose varied geology provides an excellent target for Mars exploration operations research." - Robert Zubrin

More Mars Society Projects  

Mars Gravity Biosatellite
This project seeks to send "a small population of mice to low Earth orbit aboard a spinning spacecraft creating 'artificial gravity' identical to that on the Martian surface. The five-week mission will conduct the first in-depth study of how mammals adapt to a reduced-gravity environment."

NASA has focused exclusively on microgravity research in space and has ignored the need for artificial gravity to prevent the detremental effects of long term exposure to weightlessness. This private project seeks to begin the study of this technique that will be required for missions to Mars and for hotels and other stations in space where occupants will remain for long periods.

The project started as with a team of students and advisors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge), the University of Washington (Seattle), and the University of Queensland (Brisbane). However, it closed in 2009. Later the MarsDrive group took over the project.

Artemis MoonBase Sim
The Moon Society rented the Mars Society's Lunar Desert Research Station (see above) in Utah in eartly 2006 and converted it temporarily into a Moonbase research station.

The Stardust spacecraft sailed through the tail of Comet Wild2 and captured a sample of the dust there in its aerogel material. It will require a tremendous amount of effort to locate and examine the minute dust particles captured from the tail of To help with this, the project managers are

"...seeking volunteers to help us to search for these tiny samples of matter from the galaxy. Volunteers are critical to the success of this project. Please help us find the first samples of contemporary Stardust ever collected."

This is a wonderful example of how students, amateur scientists, and members of the general public can participate directly in an important space science activity via the power of the Internet. Go to the Stardust@Home site to find out more about this project and how you can participate.

See also


Citizen Science Alliance
CSA is a "is a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop, manage and utilise internet-based citizen science projects in order to further science itself, and the public understanding of both science and of the scientific process. These projects use the time, abilities and energies of a distributed community of citizen scientists who are our collaborators”.

  • Zooniverse - this is the portal where citizen scientists, i.e. members of the general public, can find how they can part in projects such as:

    • Planet Four - "help to find and mark ‘fans’ and ‘blotches’ on the Martian surface. Scientists believe that these features indicate wind direction and speed. By tracking ‘fans’ and ‘blotches’ over the course of several Martian years to see how they form, evolve, disappear and reform, we can help planetary scientists better understand Mars’ climate. We also hope to find out if these features form in the same spot each year and also learn how they change."
    • IceHunters - The goal of this project is help find a second object for NASA's New Horizons probe to visit after it passes Pluto, the probe's primary goal. Here is a description of the IceHunters program: The most exciting citizen science project ever (to me, anyway) - The Planetary Society Blog - June.21.11.

    • Solar StormWatch:"Help spot explosions on the Sun and track them across space to Earth. Your work will give astronauts an early warning if dangerous solar radiation is headed their way."

    • Old Weather: "Help scientists recover worldwide weather observations made by Royal Navy ships around the time of World War I. These transcriptions will contribute to climate model projections and improve a database of weather extremes."

    • Moon Zoo - Count craters in high resolution images of the Moon

    • More projects

A new citizen scientist program that opened with a project for public participation called Moon Mappers in which the task is to identify craters and other surface features in Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images.

systemic - characterizing extrasolar planetary systems
Amateur researchers and students can participate in this program in which simulated astronomical data for stellar planetary systems will be distributed to PC programs for analysis:

The goal of the systemic research collaboration is to improve our statistical understanding of the galactic planetary census. This will be accomplished through a large-scale simulation in which the public is invited to participate.

At the core of the systemic simulation, we have generated a realistic catalog that contains 100,000 stars, and we have created planetary systems in orbit around some of these stars. As the collaboration unfolds, the systemic catalog of stars will be “observed” using a realistic model of the radial velocity technique, and a radial velocity data set for each star will be made available. Participants will use the systemic console (or their own software if they choose) to discover and characterize planets within the data sets.

More info:


NASA Public Participation Projects

Mars Student Imaging Project
This project seeks to involve students in operating a camera on the Mars Odyssey spacecraft. It is a collaboration of NASA and the Arizona State University team that operates the 2001 Mars Odyssey Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera.

Students in grades 5 through 12, and also college undergraduates, "will actually get to choose which site on Mars they would like to image."

Student teams send in proposals and the winners will either come to ASU to carry out the observation project or do it via the internet depending on the particular mission" plan chosen.

Planetary Society - Space Science Projects
The Planetary Society has run, and is running, a number of projects to involve students and the general public in space science. Here is a list of some of their efforts:

ESA Outreach
The European Space Agency now provides a number of projects in which students in the member nations can participate. Some of the projects include:

Other European Projects

More projects:

Meteor Observation - Visible & Radio

The American Meteor Society
This organization of "amateur and professional meteor scientists and observers" was "founded in 1911, with a common goal of studying meteors: - bright fireballs, the annual meteor showers, and the random sporadic meteors that appear every night."

Sponsors a number of projects that amateurs can participate in such as:

Leonid & Geminid Meteor Echoes
During the Leonid and Geminid meteor showers, amateur radio enthusiasts picked up reflections off the meteor trails of the U.S. NAVSPASUR radar beam. This beam is normally used to detect satellites and other spacecraft in earth orbit. Reflections from these crafts are also heard by amateurs but they are short "beeps", whereas the meteor trail reflections lasted for up to 10minutes.

This page includes links to some sound files for the echoes.

See also the NAVSPASUR page on amateur reception. Also, see the tutorial on scattering of radio waves from meteor trails at the International Meteor Organization.

International Meteor Organization (IMO) * Mirror
The IMO is a group of over 250 amateur astronomers worldwide who cooperate in the field of meteor observation.

"The collection of meteor observations by several methods from all around the world ensures the comprehensive study of meteor showers and their relation to comets and interplanetary dust." - web site

North American Meteor Network
This organization attempts to

- recruit amateurs as meteor observers
- train amateurs in the methods of meteor observation
- coordinate North American observations

Their site provides lots of useful info such as the guide on Meteor Showers and Their Observation. This includes, for example, a chapter on observation in the radio spectrum: Chapter 5: Observing Technique - Radio.

Meteoroid Impacts on the Moon
Amateurs assist NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office in monitoring the lunar surface for meteoroid impacts: Amateur Astronomers See Perseids Hit the Moon - Science@NASA - Sept.2.08.

NASA All-sky Fireball Network
The All Sky Fireball Network is a system of cameras planned for the US to track meteors so that their meteorites on the ground can be found and studied.

Intro: The NASA All-sky Fireball Network is a network of cameras set up by the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office (MEO) with the goal of observing meteors brighter than the planet Venus, which are called fireballs. The collected data will be used by the MEO in constructing models of the meteoroid environment, which are important to spacecraft designers.

Network: The network currently consists of 3 cameras placed in locations in north Alabama, northwest Georgia, and southern Tennessee. The network is growing all the time, with plans to place a total of 15 cameras in schools, science centers, and planetaria in the United States, predominately east of the Mississippi River, where there are few such systems.

The project needs schools and other organizations to volunteer to host the cameras: NASA Building Network of Smart Cameras Across the US - Singularity Hub - Mar.11.11 -

Cooke plans on expanding the network considerably in the future. The first step is upgrading to 15 cameras across the eastern half of the US. NASA is actively soliciting schools, planetariums, and science centers to host the devices. If you’re a principal or curator interested in the project contact Cooke to learn more about participating.

This ASGARD Web Log page shows latest images: Live view - All Sky Images.

Meteor Showers & Comets
More resources

Aurora/Magnetosphere Projects

Earth Space 4-D
The Earth Space 4-D software allows you to visualize the Ionosphere in real time using Google Earth. NASA data is used to refresh the imagery.

Mark Haun's Aurora Alarm
Mark A. Haun built his own automatic Aurora detector for a student project at Walla Walla College, College Place, Washington. It has "successfully detected about a dozen displays of the northern lights visible in the Pacific Northwest during the past three years. "

The system is based on one described by Jesse Knight in Sky and Telescope magazine in the article "Monitoring the Aurora Electronically, June 1982.

A sensitive light detector is combined with a narrowband optical filter to detect light that is characteristic of the Northern Lights. Microprocessor controls provide for software selection of alarm threshold conditions and algorithms.

Details of how to build the detector is given in his report: The Aurora Alarm: How it works

The current data from two detectors (one in Washington and the other in Illinois) can be obtained online in real time.

More resources:

Other Space Science Projects & Resources

NASA Projects

  • NASA Star Trails Society
    NASA initiative from science@NASA to involve amateurs in real scientific research. Opportunities for amateurs to contribute to projects in astronomy, astrobiology and other natural sciences will be announced several times a month. See, for example, the South Pole Adventure.

  • NASA Student Involvement Program
    This NASA program involves science competitions among student teams in grades 3-12. Includes microgravity experiments on NASA rockets.

  • NASA's Quest Project: Online Interactive Projects
    Get involve with NASA projects at their Quest site.

  • Cooperative Satellite Learning Project
    This NASA/Honeywell led project seeks to involve high school students directly in NASA space science e missions. The students become
    • "...directly involved in the mission performing hands-on activities such as processing of satellite data on computers at the principle schools, building a mockup of the satellite, and working with the NASA/Honeywell Flight Operations Team in controlling and monitoring the satellite.."

  • Outreach at the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory
    This institute at the university of Arizona offers a number of educational programs for student and public involvement in space science.

  • NASA Glenn Research Center Drop Tower Competition for Schools
    Students win an opportunity to do microgravity experiments with the drop tower at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Ohio.

  • Space Crystals Projects
    Understanding the structures of the many proteins and other important biological molecules is among the most crucial challenges in biochemistry. Creating crystals of these molecules allows x-ray systems to determine their detailed components and arrangements .

    However, for many of these large, complex molecules, it is difficult to grow crystals of sufficient size or quality to carry out x-ray scans. So on many shuttle flights and on the Mir station there have been tests to determine if better crystals could be grown in microgravity than on the ground.

    In fact, there are several proteins for which the largest crystals ever made were created in space. However, the brevity of the shuttle flights and the high launch costs have kept the studies from really determining the extent to which microgravity could benefit protein studies.

    Now that the ISS is available, it is hoped that extensive, long term studies can be made.

    A number of projects are intended to allow students to become involved in protein experiments. One such project was NASA's Student Access to Space program, which appears to be defunct as of 2008.

    Dr. Alexander McPherson at the University of California at Irvine carried out a number of space biology projects for NASA. He realized that very many substances would need to be tested in space (up to 10,000 samples at a time) and that preparing the crystallization samples was simple enough that students could easily do it. The goal of the project was to involve students in science and space.

Suborbital Spaceflight
NASA, ESA and other organization sponsor educational payloads on sounding rockets.

Toys in Space III
The AerospaceScholars.org site at the Johnson Space Center offers an elaborate set of courses for students with a number of projects including this section on how various mechanical toys behave in a weightless environment.

The astronauts on the Space Station carried out experiments with the toys to illustrate physics in microgravity.

Gravity Detector
It's quite surprising but in fact amateur scientists have built devices sensitive enough to detect gravitational effects of the sun and the moon. See this article for details

  • Detecting Extraterrestrial Gravity - Scientific America - Jan. 2000
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