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One objective of the BLUEsat High-Altitude Ballooning Mission is to acquire data about flight dynamics and atmospheric characteristics. The payload includes an assortment of sensors connected to a Raspberry Pi, which logs the sensor outputs to an SD card to collect the required data during flight.

Assembled High Altitude Balloon Sensor System
Assembled Sensor System

The code was written in Python and the necessary modules had to be installed to interface the code with the sensors, which will be covered here for each sensor. Please refer to our GitHub repository for all our code related to this project.

Getting Started

First, purchase a good-quality SD card from a reputable seller. I prefer to use a 32GB card so there is extra room for future uses, but if you are using it to record your flight with a Pi Camera, then I would recommend a 64GB card due to the storage requirements of the HD video and images.

This tutorial assumes you are going to be using the Raspbian Stretch OS on your SD card. Download the latest version from the Raspberry Pi website here, and extract the image file from within.

Download Etcher from here. Connect your SD card to your computer, select the image file that you extracted above and select the drive as your SD card. Hit “Flash!” and allow it to complete the flashing and validating process. Alternatively, you can use Win32 Disk Imager.

Now insert your SD card into your Pi and power it up.

Before starting work with your Pi, make sure your software is up to date. First connect your Pi to the internet (if your model doesn’t have WIFI, you can use a USB WIFI dongle or ethernet).

Open a terminal window and enter:
sudo get-apt update

sudo get-apt upgrade

Both of these commands may take a while since they download/install files (make sure your internet stays connected).

Next we will install a python module to communicate over I2C.

sudo pip install smbus2

The next command will install I2C tools.

sudo apt-get install i2c-tools

Next enable I2C on the Pi:

sudo raspi-config

Look for I2C under Interfaces, enable and reboot when prompted.

The following command will show you the hexadecimal addresses of all connected I2C devices. This will be useful in later stages after wiring up I2C sensors.

sudo i2cdetect -y 1

Components

I will now detail the setup process for each sensor.

DHT22

The DHT22 is a combined temperature and humidity sensor. This module by DFRobot has all required resistors already attached and a removable plug for easy connection, and will be mounted externally on our payload.

DHT22 Humidity & Temperature Sensor module from DFRobot
DHT22 module from DFRobot

You will need to download the following python class to interface with the sensor, available here. It is also included in our code repository named “DHT22.py” under the DHT22 directory.

The PIGPIO daemon must be running for your scripts to work. Start it by typing the following into a terminal:

sudo pigpiod

BMP280

The BMP280 is a precision barometric pressure sensor with ±1 hPa absolute accuracy. The breakout board offers both I2C and SPI digital communication interfaces.

BMP280 Temprature Sensor Breakout Board
BMP280 breakout board

First install a python library to use the sensor. Download/copy this file to your Pi, available here.

Then open a terminal and navigate to the folder in which the file is saved. Run the following command and wait until install completes:

sudo pip install RPi.bme280-0.1.3.tar.gz

MPU9250

The MPU9250 is a 9-axis motion tracker: Gyroscope + Accelorometer + Compass. We used a GY-91 module, which combines the BMP280 and MPU9250 sensors into a single board.

GY-91 breakout board containing both BMP280 and MPU9250 sensors
GY-91 breakout board containing both BMP280 and MPU9250 sensors

First install the MPU9250 python library. If connected to the internet, run this command:

sudo pip install FaBo9Axis_MPU9250

If the Pi has no internet, download this repository as a ZIP file and copy over to the Pi. Then navigate to the folder it is saved in within a terminal and run:

sudo pip install FaBo9AXIS-MPU9250-Python-master.zip

You can check which python modules are installed by running:
pip list

PT100 RTD Temperature Sensor with MAX31865 Amplifier Board

The PT100 sensor is a platinum “resistance temperature detector” (RTD). A piece of platinum in the probe changes resistance according to the temperature, and has a resistance of 100 ohms at 0 degrees Celsius (hence the name ‘PT100’). This resistance is amplified and converted to a digital signal by the MAX31865 board, which allows SPI connection with the Pi. The probe was mounted outside our enclosure to measure external temperature.

A PT100 connected to a MAX31865 on a bread board
PT100 connected to the MAX31865 board

Refer to the following document for wiring instructions, available here. Make sure you carefully cut the appropriate trace on your board, using a blade or box cutter of some kind, and short the respective pads as instructed by the guide.

Wiring diagram of the MAX31865 connecting to the raspberry pi. Left is MAX31865 right is Raspberry Pi. Wires are: VIN to 5V, GND to GND, CLK to SCLK, SDO to MISO, SDI to MOSI, CS to CEO.
Wiring the MAX31865 to the Raspberry Pi

The original python module to interface with the sensor can be found here, but it won’t work since some code needs to be added/changed. A working version can be found in our repository linked at the start, named “max31865.py” within the MAX31865 directory.

Ensure that your logging script will be in the same folder as this python module to read the digital output of the MAX31865.

Putting it all together

The in-flight power source for our Pi is a 5000mAh USB power bank, and the various boards were arranged onto a Perma-Proto HAT for a neat final assembly.

Sensor boards mounted on the Perma-Proto HAT
Sensor boards mounted on the Perma-Proto HAT

You will also see some bash scripts in our code repository which automate various processes, such as starting all logging scripts together, removing existing CSV files or killing all script processes. You can experiment by creating your own bash scripts that do cool things. You need to give these files permission to execute by using the following command from the command line:

chmod +x filename.sh

Then run it using this:

./filename.sh

Also, it is simple to join multiple CSV files using this command (order of filenames is important as they will be joined in that order):

cat file1.csv file2.csv > combined.csv

Or you can combine all CSV files in the folder using:

cat *.csv > combined.csv

Concluding Remarks

I hope this tutorial has been useful for you. Whilst you may use our code, you are encouraged to develop your own scripts to improve your learning experience. If you intend to perform multiple functions using your on-board computer (e.g. sensor logging, photography/recording), then I recommend using separate hardware to implement these functions for greater reliability in the event of system failure during flight. Furthermore, you may wish to add a DS18B20 digital temperature sensor to measure internal temperature, which was not covered in this tutorial. You may also want to script automated logging upon startup of the pi, but further functionality will be left to the imagination and experimentation of the reader.

For any technical inquiries, you can contact us at: info@bluesat.com.au


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Most conventional spacecraft use one of two chemical rocket designs, liquid fuel or solid fuel. Both designs rely on the same core principle, a highly reactive fuel is supplied with an oxidising agent and then ignited. For a liquid rocket both the fuel and the oxidiser are kept in liquid or gaseous forms and then mixed together before ignition. A solid rocket has the two components premixed and compacted into a solid core. Both designs have advantages and disadvantages, but did you know that there exists a third type of chemical rocket?

This rocket is known as a hybrid rocket and it takes the advantages of the previous two types and mixes them together.

Diagram of a hybrid rocket engine. It shows fuel flowing from the oxidser tank to the pumping unit then through the flow channel that contains the solid fuel core.
Hybrid Rocket Engine

 

The hybrid rocket has a solid core of fuel which has a oxidiser pumped through it. Typical oxidisers include gaseous oxygen or liquid oxygen that is vaporized. As the oxidiser is in either a gaseous or vaporised form, it is easily able to cover the surface area of the fuel core. The fuel in the presence of this oxidiser is now able to be ignited, generating thrust. As you can see in the diagram below, such a rocket is an exceptionally simple device, requiring minimal pumping or mixing.

So why choose this hybrid engine over conventional designs? As I mentioned earlier a hybrid rocket takes many of the advantages offered by its two colleagues. A few of the most notable are listed below.

  • Simplicity of design – Whilst not as simple as a solid rocket, a hybrid rocket is far less complex in design than an equivalent liquid rocket. This is due to its single flowing fluid and lack of mixing chamber.
  • Controllability – Unlike a solid rocket, a hybrid rocket can easily be controlled by the flow of oxidiser within the system. This gives it similar characteristics to liquid rockets.
  • Safety – The clear mechanical separation, and different phase states of the oxidiser and fuel allow hybrid rockets to be far safer than either solid or liquid fuel designs.
  • Port design and custom regression rate – By changing the geometry of the oxidisers flow channel, different fuel regression rates may be achieved with minimal changes to the greater system.

However the most interesting advantage offered by these rockets is something quite new to the market, 3d printing. You see the fuel in a hybrid rocket can be almost any polymer. This means that materials such as abs plastic or petg can be used as fuel. Not only are these readily accessible, but they can also be 3d printed with almost any home setup.

Yes that’s right, you can 3d print a rocket at home. In fact 3d printed hybrid rockets are becoming very common amongst both universities as well as actual spacecraft companies. For instance Gilmour space, an Australian rocket company, has been developing such a rocket for several years now and plans to launch in 2018. 3d printing offers a world of new possibilities for hybrid rockets with the ability to custom design thrust profiles and times for any rocket using hybrid propulsion. An example of the complexity that 3d printing can offer is shown in the picture below.

3D Printed Rocket Fuel for a hybrid rocket.
3D Printed Rocket Fuel <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:3D_Printed_Hybrid_Rocket_Fuel_Grain.jpg>

Hybrid rockets are a fantastic propulsion method, and there are many new end exciting ways that they will be developed in the coming years. My mechanical engineering honours thesis will see me conduct more research into this area, likely looking into different 3d printed designs for these rockets. Stay tuned to these blogs in 2018 for more hybrid rockets!


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Yes, the first question you are thinking of is correct. This is totally illegal. But this is super easy, educational, and takes so little time that you will be done before they catch you. The aim of this blog is to introduce radio communication fundamentals, and secondly to show off what we do here at BLUEsat UNSW, except we do this in a completely legal fashion. A demonstration of the finished product can be seen later in this article, or you can scroll down to see if you are too curious.

Regulations

So, we must talk about what makes this illegal. We encourage readers to take measures in order to satisfy regulations.

  • Pirating: this is simply the act of reproducing a copyrighted work without the permission of the owner. This can be addressed by either avoiding any transmission of copyrighted material, or get their permission.
  • Licensing: certain frequencies are restricted from transmission. There are allocated frequencies open to the public known as CB frequencies. Additionally, a wider range of frequencies are available to individuals with a radio license.
  • Power: this will affect how far your transmission will reach and how dangerous to people and equipment nearby. A very simple solution is to buy a ‘dummy load’ or simply earn a radio license.

Setting up the USRP

Unfortunately, using a USRP is not as simple as plugging it into your computer, you will first need to install the relevant drivers so your computer can recognise the device.

First, you will need to download Zadig, which is a USB driver installer. Zadig ensures that the USRP is recognised by the computer and GNU radio companion.

Next you will need to download the relevant USRP drivers for your operating system. Drivers have to be installbed before you open Zadig with the USRP plugged into your computer. You may find that no devices are listed, if this is the case click options and list all devices.

Finding USRP device using Zadig.

Search through the devices to find the USRP, it may appear under different names, we found that sometimes it registered as WestBridge. Then it is simply a matter of clicking upgrade driver. If your GNU radio has trouble connecting to the USRP, the solution is to actually repeat process and it should work.

Correct settings to use the USRP in Zadig. The driver is WinUSB and the top drop down is set to "USRP B200"

It is good to note that every time the USRP is replugged into your computer, it will have to undergo an initialisation in GNU radio, taking about a minute or two. Afterwards however, it should only take a few seconds to start transmitting.

Building Script

GNU Radio window displaying the script to use the USRP.

Setting up GNU radio companion is quite simple and just continuously transmits a specified wav file on loop until cancelled. You can download this file here, or continue reading to see what was done.

First you must add a wav file source, we used a copyright free song found on youtube and converted it to a wav file. If you have downloaded our GNUradio companion file, you will have to find a song to upload it into the source.

Next, is the addition of the NBFM (Narrow Band FM) transmit and rational resampler block. Images below show how these blocks have been configured to optimise quality.

The properties for the NBFM Transmit block in GNU Radio. ID is analog_nbfm_tx_0, Tau is 75e-6, max deviation is 5e3 and preemphasis high corner is -1.0.Rational Resampler block properties in GNU Radio. The type is Complex->Complex, the interpolation is in(samp_rate*1.05) and the decimation is audio_rate*audio_interp.
Finally we added a UHD (USRP sink). For the purpose of this article and transmitting a song legally, we have chosen a frequency in the citizen band and limited gain so that our pirate transmission will not be too annoying to everyone outside of the BLUESat room


General tab of the USRP Sink in GNU Radio. The input type is "Complex float32" the wire format is "Automatic", Clock Rate is "Default", Num Mboards is 1, Num Channels is 1 and the Samp Rate is "samp_rate".RF Options tab of the USRP Sink in GNU Radio. The Ch0 settings are: Center Freq = freq, Gain Value = gain, Gain Type = Absolute (db), Antenna = TX/RX and Bandwidth is "samp_rate"
You will also see in the image of the complete system that there are a few variables and GUI sliders which limited for simplicity so you only see a small GUI window, which gives you the ability to change frequency or gain while transmitting.

It really is as simple as that.

Demonstration

This is the final product of all the hard work.

If you found this interesting

BLUESat UNSW regularly produces blog material to publicise ourselves and to demonstrate learning opportunities. Our previous Groundstation article taught you how to produce a waterfall plot on GNU radio. If you want to know more about our satellite groundstation you can read about it on the Groundstation page.

If you are interested in learning more about BLUESat, follow the links on our page and leave an expression of interest.


We actively ensure that every thing BLUESat does and encourages remains legal. This is why you see us using a copyright free song, transmitted on a CB frequency at low power for a short period of time. While the low power doesn’t effect the legality, it does minimise any disruptions and impacts to other users of the CB frequency.


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BLUEsat’s  NUMBAT rover is due for completion early next year, and it needs a new and updated control system to go along with it. That’s where the prototype for the new joystick comes in.

First, let me take you through the previous controllers. The BLUEtongue rover was controlled via two different Xbox controllers; one to control the movement of its wheels, and the other to control the arm and claw.

The one I was to make was to incorporate all the above features onto one single joystick. An Xbox controller does not have sufficient number of buttons so creating one using an Arduino seemed to be the best option.

Speed Control

The first task was to implement speed control. Initially, I had an idea that this could be achieved by using a potentiometer as the speed control, but I wasn’t sure how. With a bit of experimentation and fumbling about, I realised how it could be done.

Firstly, to control the old space rover, two different joysticks are used, one to control the rover’s movement in the ‘Y-axis’ and the other in the ‘X-axis’.  This is done to ensure that the rover moves precisely forwards or backwards without any deviation. This was a good method to control the movement and thus I will not change this.

A joystick itself is simply two different potentiometers combined, one for each axis. They both work simultaneously to provide a reading. The values of both axis range from 0-1023, as does with any potentiometer. Therefore, the resting position of a joystick is somewhere between 500 – 530 (this is where the velocity is zero). With this idea in mind, as an example, if the joystick reads a value greater than 530 in the X and Y-axis, it means that the joystick has been move to the top-right position and the rover should also move towards the North-East direction. Using this, I can get the rover to move in any direction I want, so what about the speed control?

Arduino joystick attachment overlaid with 2D graph axis
This illustrates the direction of both potentiometer ranges for the axes

This is where the second potentiometer comes in. As mentioned above, it has a range from 0 – 1023. When the reading is 0, the velocity of the rover should be zero and when the reading is 1023, the rover should be moving at max speed. Thus, I needed a way to map the readings from the joysticks to the respective maximum boundaries set by the potentiometer. Lucky for me, there is a ‘map()’ function in the Arduino library that does just that. It, in simplicity remaps  a number from from one range to another. Testing this  on the BLUEtongue rover proved that this method worked and slowed the rover down to a specific speed depending on the reading from the potentiometer.

A small snippet of this implementation is illustrated below.


...

int yaxis = analogRead(A0);
int xaxis = analogRead(A1);
//Sensor reading from the potentiometer
double sensorValue = analogRead(A2);
//remapping the yaxis vector between 0 and the reading form the potentiometer reading
double remapy;
//remapping the xaxis vector between 0 and the reading form the potentiometer reading
double remapx;

if((yaxis >= 493 && yaxis <= 553)&&(xaxis >= 493 && xaxis <= 553)){ //No movement
      command.drive_vector.y = 0.00; 
      command.drive_vector.x = 0.00;
 }else if((yaxis >= 553)&&(xaxis >= 493 && xaxis <= 553)){ //FORWARDS
      remapy = map(yaxis, 553, 1023,0, sensorValue);
      command.drive_vector.y = remapy/1023; 
      command.drive_vector.x = 0.00; 
 }else if((yaxis <= 493)&&(xaxis >= 493 && xaxis <= 553)){ //BACKWARDS
      remapy = map(yaxis, 493, 0,0, sensorValue);
      command.drive_vector.y = -(remapy/1023);
      command.drive_vector.x = 0.00;
 }
...
else if(yaxis >= 553 && xaxis >= 553){ //TOP-LEFT
      remapy = map(yaxis, 553,1023,0,sensorValue);
      remapx = map(xaxis, 553, 1023,0, sensorValue); 
      command.drive_vector.y = (remapy)/1023;
      command.drive_vector.x = (remapx)/1023; 
 }else if(yaxis >= 553 && xaxis <= 493){ //TOP-RIGHT
      remapy = map(yaxis, 553,1023,0,sensorValue);
      remapx = map(xaxis, 493, 0,0, sensorValue);
      command.drive_vector.y = (remapy)/1023;
      command.drive_vector.x = -((remapx)/1023);
 }

It basically does the same thing as aforementioned, detecting the direction each joystick faces and maps them to their respective direction and velocity for the rover.

Buttons

Now with the speed control done, next was to implement buttons to control the extending and retraction of the arm, claws and their rotation. This was just using buttons and depending on what the PWM (pulse width modulation) value was for the specific action. This has been mostly completed, however some revision is still required.

Webcam switching is also something that is to be completed via buttons on the joystick itself, but it has yet to begin implementation.

A code snippet of the button implementation is shown below.


if(digitalRead(ARM_LOWER_EXTEND) == HIGH){
    command.arm_lower_pwm = 2000; //Extend the lower arm
}else if(digitalRead(ARM_LOWER_RETRACT) == HIGH){
    command.arm_lower_pwm = 1000;//Retract the lower arm
}else{
    command.arm_lower_pwm = 1500;
}

//UPPER ARM
if(digitalRead(ARM_UPPER_EXTEND) == HIGH){
    command.arm_upper_pwm = 1000; //Extend the upper arm
}else if(digitalRead(ARM_UPPER_RETRACT) == HIGH){
    command.arm_upper_pwm = 2000;//Retract the upper arm
}else{
    command.arm_upper_pwm = 1500;
}

In the Near Future

Prototype Joystick for BLUEsat UNSW's NUMBAT Rover - A breadboard with buttons on it, two joysticks and an arduino uno.
This is what the joystick currently looks like

As shown above, that is what the prototype currently looks like. There are a lot of buttons, and they will continue to increase. After the prototype is confirmed to be working properly to a satisfactory level, a casing for it will being to be designed. The design would have to incorporate space for all of the button, the two joysticks as well as the potentiometer. Not only that, they must all be in comfortable positions that are easy to access without causing any hand strain due to long time usage. This design will then be 3D printed when decided upon. Hopefully the prototype joystick will have a home soon.


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Fifteen years passed since Australians had last launched a satellite into space. In early 2017, this interlude was interrupted by a team at UNSW who launched EC0, a CubeSat into low Earth orbit. The CubeSat industry, although in its infancy, has allowed for an affordable method of building and launching satellites into space. The CubeSat was built by the Australian Centre for Space Enginer Research (ACSER) while BLUEsat provided the groundstation.

GPredict tracking EC0’s range of communication on our groundstation - view of the earth showing radio ranges for GOMX1, UNSW-ECO, ISS, and RS-40
GPredict tracking EC0’s range of communication on our groundstation

 

Moving at approximately 28,000 kilometres per hour and equipped with a mass spectrometer, an instrument used to measure the masses within a sample by detecting ion charged particles, EC0 sought to extend our limited knowledge regarding the thermosphere. In doing so, EC0 is capable of aiding scientists in undercovering unexpected phenomena pertaining to this largely unknown region of the atmosphere. Further developing our understanding of weather models, improving GPS and radio transmitted communication methods while deepening our understanding of the interaction that the sun’s radiation has with earth are all within the scope of EC0’s potential. First launched to the ISS and subsequently sent into orbit, EC0 formed part of the QB50 project, an international network consisting of Cubesats built by universities from around the world whose collective input help advance scientific research in this particular region of the atmosphere.

Artist impression of the EC0 cubesat orbiting the stratosphere
Artist’s impression of EC0 orbiting the Earth

 

In the true fashion of space launches, EC0’s launch wasn’t without its problems. Complications quickly arose as groundstation was unable to send or receive any signals to EC0 preventing any communication from occurring. It was believed that the satellites antenna had failed to deploy upon departure into space. After several months of unsuccessful experiments, the use of a high powered European satellite dish was employed to send extra powerful signals to EC0, and for the first time a communication was finally successful. This gave ACSER the clue that they were looking for and after further deliberation, finally the issue was detected. The groundstation was mistakenly transmitting signals to another satellite, ‘Challenger’, as both the Cubesat’s Two Line Elements (TLE), a sort of barcode, had been mixed up before the launch. Upon detection, the complication was promptly corrected, allowing EC0 to truly begin its mission. BLUEsat Satellite CTO, and groundstation lead Timothy Guo reflected upon this moment, claiming the “image of success is strange and there is no euphoria for success, just relief for a problem being solved. Successful communication meant we entered into a new phase of the mission and the fact that you’ve successfully sent a Cubesat into orbit only really hits about a week later”.

A replica of EC0’s internal structure.
A replica of EC0’s internal structure

 

For the initial six months of the mission, communication with EC0 was only achievable at the time it would pass over Australia within its orbit path. This was highly problematic as it often occurred inconveniently between midnight and the earlier hours of the morning. To combat this limitation, ACSER recently installed sophisticated software, allowing for automation of the communication process. At this point in time, a large portion of EC0’s instruments are fully operational, already collecting data about such a fascinating region of the atmosphere.

Due to the high friction environment that EC0 occupies, it’s lifespan is limited to two years. Upon completion of its mission in this period, earth’s gravity will drag EC0 towards its solid surface. The moment of impact will mimic a conventional meteorite crash, burning up when entering the atmosphere, slowing down due to gravity and having very low chances of impact repercussions.


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The IAC had been an amazing experience (read all about it here) but all good things must come to an end. But let it never be said that this IAC didn’t go out with a bang. For the entire week, anticipation had been lingering around the convention center and today it defuses as the man himself arrived on stage. A jubilant tumult erupted from hall as Elon Musk, the man of the hour, took the stage.

Elon Musk at IAC2017
Who is SpaceX?

Despite his nervous disposition, he did not disappoint and his plans and premise to great effect. We all listened intently to his vision and plans to go forth and take a great step into making humanity an multiplanetary species with his latest daring plan. There were many exciting parts to this highlight presentation. He had gone through the rough history that showed the mettle at the heart of SpaceX and detailed the problem that underlies the way we’ve done space travel and how it hinders interplanetary travel. He had given his solution in the form of SpaceX’s latest project, a new rocket with revolutionary reusability features but once again, Elon Musk uses his greatest signature move and makes another stunning announcement. He announced that SpaceX is planning to launch multiple missions to Mars starting from 2022 in a bid to create and expand a Mars colony. The first mission would carry the building blocks necessary for the establishment of a Mars base with the next mission carrying the first people to step foot on mars. Additionally, he concluded the presentation with a potential to use his new rockets as a means of long distance travel on Earth. Naturally, these two revolutionary ideas were met with overwhelming applause and praise from the audience. As far as we know, this may be the start of our journey to the stars.

BFR Concept
New York to Shanghai in 39 mins, still 4 hours in border control (image courtesy of SpaceX)

The day, however was not over and I took my seat to observe the final event of the day, the closing ceremony. There we celebrated achievements of members of the space community which have excelled and many words encouraging the next generation to take up the torch of our great journey were sent with vigour. The contract for the next IAC in Bremen was signed on stage by the esteemed president of the IAF, Dr. Jean Yves Le Gall and the ceremony concluded with the passing of the IAC flag from the Chair of the 68th IAC to the Chair of the 69th IAC.

As I left the convention centre. I had time to reflect on the journey that the past few days had been. It had been a trip of excitement and anticipation, of anxiousness in the face of finally presenting our work and of joy in meeting new people and seeing new sights. This event had revolutionised the way I see the space industry. I had learned to see it not as some dream that only a few will ever experience but a future that I hope will one day be realised through the strength and unity of humanity as we take a step towards space, the final frontier

IAC 2017 Logo
Truly a life changing experience. Anyone keen for IAC2018?

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In July of 2004, a much younger me watched from a distance as Cassini entered Saturn’s orbit. At about that time, I had begun to develop a fascination with space and as Cassini charted a course around Saturn, I began working towards becoming a spacecraft engineer. About two weeks ago, Cassini’s journey came to a spectacular close it plunged into the atmosphere of Saturn. Now I am here, standing proud among giants of the space industry and the first leg of my journey has reached its end

Cassini Grand Finale
♪♪Goodbyyyyyyyyyyyyye Moon Men♪♪ (image courtesy of NASA)

With all of the excitement we have had over the last 3 days, (read all about yesterday’s adventures here), today started slowly for me. I decided to take it easy, getting ready for the big event and didn’t arrive until two hours before our session. Still, I managed to get my long awaited selfie with the curiosity rover and launched into many conversations with the people we had met over the course of the week. It was great to see that we had become part of the group, integrating ourselves within the assembly of students, startups and established names.

Curiosity Selfie at IAC2017
He was very rude about it. He seemed nicer on TV

I arrived early to guarantee I was there on time. Slowly the crowd shuffled in behind me, including members of my team and the friends we had made. Show time!

First up was the NASA Glenn Research Center with their talk about NASA’s progress in producing In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU). From there the presentations became more and more incredible. We saw swarms of jumping robots for asteroid study, Martian zeppelins and computer chips built for Venus. There where four legged robots to explore the moon, a lunar rover becoming a superstar in Japan in order to raise money for launch and integrated navigation systems using star trackers and proximity sensors. We were the last presentation of the day, so I had plenty of time to talk myself into a nervous sweat. Of course I did

GreenSat at IAC2017
Dont screw it up dont screw it up dont screw it up

By the time I got up on stage, many people had seen what they had came for and left. However, even more had shuffled in to watch us. Our presentation was a smashing success: we explained the importance in agriculture throughout history and its role in making human kind a space faring race. We showed off our first prototype and our plan to breed bacteria better suited to the space environment. Question time gave us the exact questions we where looking for: talking about things we couldn’t fit into the presentation such as our plan to simulate gravity and the steps we plan to take to achieve that. We were followed out into the corridor by a mob of people curious about our work and where asked many more questions about the specifics of our project

This trip has been an amazing experience, made possible by the tremendous work done by our incredible team. Thank you to everyone who made this possible, the Greensat team itself, those within BLUEsat who helped organise this trip and our amazing faculty who helped guide us to where we are now. With one more day left, this trip is not over yet and I look forward to another day of amazing presentations and incredible new ideas


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Whilst one would think an ecology and molecular biology student would feel daunted and lost at an Astronautical Conference it has actually been both an enjoyable and educational experience so far (see our previous blogs). Admittedly, at the start it was a little bewildering trying to navigate around the labyrinth of exhibits plastered with unrecognisable words associated with space technology. In one incident we, Jess, Yasmin A and I (the only non-engineers in the GreenSat party attending the IAC), managed to find ourselves in a position where we could only slowly nod our heads in agreement as we had an exhibitor persistently tell us about his new advancements in thermal control systems for satellites. I shan’t even attempt to expand on what he explained to us.

NextAero Aerospike Engine
What on Earth is this?

However, it has been a very pleasantly surprising experience to have professionals within these industries and other students from other institutions being enthusiastically curious and willing to hear about the biological aspects of the GreenSat project. Whilst most talk sessions and presentations so far have been somewhat inaccessible to me due to their technical terminology and content, on Wednesday morning (at the begrudgingly early start time of 7am) I dragged myself to attend the ‘First Woman on the Moon-Diversity Breakfast’ talk session along with two other GreenSat members (who also happened to be other female members on the GreenSat team). Despite the excessive complaining I know I carried out about my lack of sleep and need for caffeine, the talk was undoubtedly an incredibly worthwhile endeavour. There is no sugar coating the reality of the situation either, this talk had the best gender balance ratio I have seen so far on the trip; with nearly-nearly, almost half the room being women!

First Women on the Moon Breakfast
Jaxa bringing biology to the stars

Before launching into the session, the welcome started with the President of the IAF, Dr Jean-Yves Le Gall, talking about the potential historical significance of the first woman on the moon, but the questioning of what the first woman would represent really took off with Steve Durst, Founding Director of the International Lunar Observatory Association. He brought to everyone’s attention that there has been a total of 60 woman in space, but of those none have walked on the moon compared to the 12 men who have. He began to question what a female on the moon would represent, whether she would represent a nationality, a professional background or an age too, would it be another giant leap for mankind? Whilst he did not emphasise on a definitive conclusion, it was easily interpretable the unfortunate reality is the ‘great leap’ may be more of a ‘little pounce’ for the first woman on the moon. Professor Jan Woerner, Director General of the European Space Agency, dazzling everyone with vibrant and humorous slides even referenced that moon itself is considered to have a feminine identity (including ‘la lune’ in French being a feminine noun and he even referred to the Maya moon goddess).

The truly impacting ideas from the breakfast however came from the two final speakers; Danielle Richey from Lockheed Martin and Dr. Sandy Magnus, Executive Director of AIAA and astronaut. Together, these two prominent, inspirational and determined women simultaneously balanced the same conceptual thinking and complimented one other in a powerful way, conveying the very significant message of the necessity of diversity within not just the space industry but in all industries. They both, carefully selecting their words, created their own concept of equality and diversity to ensure as much inclusivity and cementing the idea that diversity does not just come from the fact that there is representation but from having a collectively rich source of experiences and knowledge. Their talks were greatly crafted as they both brought up how diversity within a team also includes more energy requirement, more stepping out of the comfort zone and more open-mindedness.  A memorable part of the talk by Dr. Sandy Magnus was she said that a diverse team means: “a richer source of solutions…. because each person’s tackling of a problem is different…. creating a more creative and stronger community”. The key challenges that building a diverse team, community or industry faces is the “breaking down of stereotypes and most importantly being able to listen”.

First Women on the Moon Breakfast
Man on the moon is so 1969

It is safe to say that, even though I very much look forward to the days yet to come (especially since there will be many talks coming soon on astrobiology and biology), this talk was a highlight because whether it is the field of engineering, science, business or arts, these principles of equality and diversity are translatable to any area of life. It may not have been the most popular or technical talk at the IAC but I personally found it an incredible session as society and teams are what hold projects and progression together.


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The first day of the IAC was action-packed to say the least, with thousands of people ranging from bright-eyed students such as us, to earnest young professionals and finally the fatigued yet robust juggernauts of the space industry.

Thanks to the catering provided by the Adelaide Convention Centre, we were able to network with the very same people mentioned above during the IAC’s welcome reception, filled with delicious finger foods and rich wine from South Australia vineyards. Albeit shy at the start, Anuraj and I managed to start a conversation with Ralph Mcnort, who runs an aerospace laboratory at the renowned John Hopkins University in the states. He discussed everything from his profile of work (which was impressive to say the least) as well as his deep passion for space, which runs in family (his youngest grandchild is studying to be an aerospace pilot). Overall it was a once in a lifetime chance to converse with someone so well-versed in the topic of space.

Boeing Starliner at the IAC2017
Making new friends past Jupiter 2

While IAC day one had the liberty of packing us all into the same room to force us to talk to each other, the second day was much more relaxed, with a multitude of talks (about space obviously) which we could attend. Ben and Nathan woke up bright and early to attend their talk session concerning the exploration of the Moon and space system architectures while I attended a midday session on human physiology in space. This session discussed the effects of short and long term spaceflight on the human body, as well as the countermeasures being developed to mitigate these effects (astronauts not being able to walk after they return to earth is a fairly big problem). There was a lot to cover during this lecture but the finer points included a state of the art MDS system developed by the Russians (essentially a compact, full body gym in space), insights into fascial tissue studies and its relation to reactive jumping and finally a return of ballistocardiography. Don’t worry if you didn’t understand most of the things I listed above, I had a hard time deciphering the PowerPoint presentations myself!

Nathan Kristain in Space Suit
Captain Nathan Kristian Ready for Duty

All in all, the IAC so far has been a riveting experience, due to the conversations with reputable people on day one as well as some intense yet deeply interesting talk sessions about space on day two. I have high hopes for the rest of the week as I attend more events, in particular Elon Musk this coming Friday!

Bill Nye Light Sail
Bill Nye giving us the Birds and the Bees

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The first day of the International Astronautical Congress has passed, and what initially shocked me the most about the conference has now turned into a different feeling. There are about 3500 delegates at this conference, which was most clear during the opening ceremony. The auditorium for the opening ceremony was absolutely enormous – so large that a person presenting at the front appeared no larger than my thumb held at arm’s length from where I sat near the back. Expansive monitors were required to get a good look at the performances and the speakers.

ISS Model
Someday I’m gonna buy my mama a place like this

I entered the auditorium somewhat early, when about one third of the seats were taken. While I knew the number of delegates attending the conference beforehand, seeing them filter in ahead of the opening ceremony and rapidly fill up all available seats was what truly allowed me to understand the size of the number. Indeed, there were so many that many delegates sat in the aisles – not something OH&S would be too thrilled about!

The opening ceremony was marked by spectacular performances and inspiring speeches. However, each of these paled in comparison to the announcement of a national space agency for Australia by the Honorable Simon Birmingham. A cheer rose at this, its volume and length surpassing those one might hear at the cricket. The sheer joy in the delegates’ surrounded us and, for a moment, bound us together as one.

IAC pannel
The judges are set

Afterwards, a break session began, which I spent well collecting colourful brochures from various organisations, such as ArianeSpace and Surrey Satellite Technologies Limited. This was followed by the Heads of Agencies plenary talk, the topic of which was “Business before Science or Science before Business”. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the undoubtedly interesting plenary talk as I had to make time to practice my own presentation, which I gave at the Space Exploration Overview session. My presentation’s topic was on how it was becoming easier for small organisations to send up small spacecraft, such as CubeSats, to explore the solar system. Despite some nerves, I’m happy to say that I absolutely nailed it.

Taofiq Huq at the IAC2017
Taofiq presenting his work on CubeSat Exploration of the Solar System

As the day progressed in this manner, my awe at the number of attendees progressed into, as I mentioned earlier, a different feeling. This new feeling was awe at myself and my fellow members of GreenSat. The 3500 delegates of the International Astronautical Congress can be considered 3500 of the most prominent members of the global space industry, and here we were, a small subset of a student projects society among them!

By the end of the day, rather than thinking of 3500 as a large number, I began to think on how tightly this number constrained the size of the global space industry. There are obviously tens, if not hundreds of thousands who are directly involved with the space industry globally, but only 3500 of these came to the IAC. And to think our group makes up 10 of this distinguished 3500! It’s truly incredible that we’re able to be here today.

Christopher Miller with Curiosity Rover
Have you seen my Cat?