Historically, missions executed by NASA (and others) were on a grand scale – massive spacecraft built with massive budgets and a massive labor force, but in the past decade, an education and industrial focus has emerged on sending nano-satellites, known as CubeSats, into orbit (so named for their cubical shape).
Technology has opened the doors in recent years for do-it-yourselfers to complete scientific projects without help from universities or government agencies. But space exploration is one field that has remained largely out of reach for amateur scientists who don’t have NASA-sized budgets.
One way space enthusiasts have found to get more involved in the last few years is by building little satellites themselves, called cubesats.
Basically just metal boxes about the size of a loaf of bread, cubesats are popular in the DIY space community because they can be built cheaply with off-the-shelf parts and can be stuffed with cameras and all sorts of other instruments depending on the builders’ interests.
They’re usually put together by groups of amateurs or classes who pay to have their cubesat catch a ride on bigger rocket missions and once they’re dropped off, they stay in orbit and transmit pictures or other data back down to Earth.
They want to take the plasma propulsion systems that power big spacecraft, like communication satellites, and shrink them down so that amateurs can send their cubesats into new orbits or even off into the solar system.
An interview with Benjamin Longmier, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan.
There was once a time when Uncle Sam and NASA opened the wallet to fund space travel and space research.
That was then. This is now.
These days, space scientists have to get much more creative in raising those research dollars.
Case in point: Benjamin Longmier, who's an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan. His special area is propulsion, as he seeks to build the kind of thruster that will push a spacecraft out of Earth's orbit and send that space craft to other planets.
We spoke to Benjamin Longmier about his research a few months ago, and now he's moving to the "creative fundraising" stage of things.
Lawmakers in Lansing recently approved a $65 million increase in the state's Great Start Readiness Program. That's Michigan's preschool program for 4-year olds at risk of being under-prepared for kindergarten. But, many childhood advocates say that's not enough. We took a look into whether more needs to be done.
We also heard about space exploration 21st century style. We spoke to a Michigan scientist who is using Kickstarter to make his research a reality.
Also, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes will preside over the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. We spoke with Brent Snavely of the Detroit Free Press about what we can expect from the judge.
First on the show, the Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing by the city of Detroit has some wondering if Detroit is not an isolated incident. Could other financially struggling cities be on the same path?
To help us answer this question, we turned to Michigan Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee. Kildee represents Flint and Saginaw.
Today is a big day for lovers of the planet Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.
NASA's MESSENGER (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging) vehicle will start to orbit Mercury today.
Of all the terrestrial planets, Mercury remains one of the most mysterious.
NASA's Mariner 10 took some photos during flybys back in 1974 and 1975. And more recently, MESSENGER took some photos and grabbed some samples on a flyby in 2008.
The New York Times had a piece on what scientists learned about Mercury from the 2008 flyby:
An instrument aboard Messenger sampled Mercury’s surface composition by catching some of the charged atoms that have been knocked into space. Silicon, sodium and sulfur were detected. So was water.
“Which is a real surprise,” said Thomas H. Zurbuchen, an associate professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at the University of Michigan and lead author of another paper in Science. “The first time we took a whiff of the planet, it’s right there.”
One possibility is that the water exists as ice in the shaded parts of craters in the polar regions.
Today, MESSENGER will begin orbiting the planet every 12 hours. Engineers at the University of Michigan say "an onboard device dubbed FIPS (Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer), a soda-can sized sensor designed and built at the University of Michigan will take atmospheric measurements, studying the evolution of rocky planets as it orbits Mercury."
Here, Thomas Zurbuchen, the lead engineer from the University of Michigan, talks about FIPS: