BTS#17: Canada’s Impact Being Felt in Space

Show Notes

Hansen’s role with the most recent space walk

Jeremy Hansen is one of Canada’s two active astronauts (the other is David Saint-Jacques). Although neither has flown in space yet (they were only hired in 2009), they are knee deep in training and preparation. But that doesn’t mean that can’t contribute to current missions via Ground Control. On 23 April 2014, two astronauts (Steve Swanson and Rich Mastracchio) aboard the International Space Station stepped out of the airlock to perform a space walk. Their goal: to replace a backup computer that had failed on 11 April 2014. From the ground, Canada’s very own Jeremy Hansen acted as ‘Ground IV,’ a crucial team member of the space walk. As activities such as space walks are highly complicated, they require the work of a large team both on-orbit and on the ground. Hansen’s duties as Ground IV was to assist and choreograph the on-orbit astronauts duties to ensure the project was completed. This required Hansen to have an inside-out knowledge of the entire operation, seeing it as a whole, and able to direct the astronauts to stay on time. Canada’s contributions to the International Space Station are wide and varied, this is just another example of our work.
Suggested Reading: NASA article on space walk, Sun News Network article

Canada contributing to Japan’s new orbiting X-ray observatory

Japan is currently putting together a new orbiting X-ray telescope called ASTRO-H, which will observed some of the more energetic processes in the universe. Canada has officially partnered with the project (along with the United States and Europe) and will be contributing a stabilization and vibration characterization system to reduce the noise in the observations. The design of the telescope includes a very long boom (or mast) that directs incoming X-rays; since it is long it is more easily susceptible to vibrations and distortions. Canada is at the forefront of space robotics and on-orbit systems, so Japan approached Canada to help solve the issues involved with the long boom. The CSA awarded a contract to Neptic Design Group to contribute this hardware/software. As a result, Canadian astronomers will have access to observing time on the new X-ray telescope. Slated to launch in 2015.
Suggested Reading: CSA press release, CSA ASTRO-H page

First confirmed Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of its parent star

On 17 April 2014, the Kepler Space Telescope team, located out of NASA/Ames, announced the discovery of the first Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting in the habitable zone of its parent star. Previously, the Kepler team has announced the discovery of small planets, and even planets in the habitable zone, but this is the first time both requirements have been met. The planet is called Kepler-186f, and it orbits a M dwarf star, which is a star smaller and colder than our own Sun (a G-type star). As a result the M dwarf’s habitable zone is closer to the star than the habitable zone of the Sun. The Kepler-186 star is located about 500 lightyears from Earth; the planet Kepler-186f is about 1.1x the size of Earth and orbits the M dwarf once every 130 days. The orbital distance is roughly the Sun-Mercury distance, but because the M dwarf is cooler, the habitable zone is also closer.
Suggested Reading: NASA Press Release, Comparison of Planets, wikipedia entry

Watching a new moon form around Saturn?

The Cassini Mission has been an unbelievable success in its research of the planet Saturn. Since its arrival at Saturn and orbital insertion on 1 July 2004, Cassini has made countless discoveries about the massive ringed Gas Giant planet. It appears Cassini has added another discovery to the list, with observations that may indicate a new moon is forming in the rings. Informally nicknamed ‘Peggy,’ the strange object/disturbance in the rings of Saturn may in fact be a new moon forming. Astronomers think the disturbance is a result of the gravitational field of some small object. The object itself is too small to be seen, but its affects on the rings of Saturn betray its existence. It is tough to tell if this is, in fact, a new Moon forming, but it is one of the more likely explanations. The rings of Saturn are made up of mostly icy chunks ranging in size from dust grain size to a few meters.
Suggested Reading: Science @ NASA, Cassini Mission homepage, wikipedia entry