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$26 million to propel space research at McGill and Université de Montréal to the outer limits

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The McGill Space Institute (MSI) and the Institute for Research on Exoplanets (iREx) at Université de Montréal are at the forefront of the exhilarating pace of space research, helping to advance our knowledge of extrasolar planets, fast radio bursts, the dark universe, and other extraterrestrial mysteries. Now their stellar work and efforts to recruit top students and researchers are getting a huge boost thanks to extraordinary gifts to McGill University and the Université de Montréal from the Trottier Family Foundation.

The visionary gifts, which total $26 million, coincide with an exciting age of discovery in astrophysics, thanks in part to the development of powerful new telescopes – such as the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) and James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) – that enable researchers to explore deep into our solar system and beyond. In addition to advancing our understanding of the universe, space research has contributed to the development of transformative technologies that have greatly benefitted society, including communication satellites, GPS, high-performance cameras, and high-speed wireless internet.

Trottier Space Institute at McGill University

The McGill Space Institute will receive $16 million, of which half will go towards the construction of an annex to the Institute’s current building on University Street. The other portion of the gift will be used to fund graduate and postdoctoral fellowships, as well as to expand on existing programmatic and research support. The ground-breaking work by the Space Institute’s researchers includes major discoveries in the area of neutron stars and fast radio bursts by Professor of Physics and Director of the Institute Victoria Kaspi, an award-winning astrophysicist who holds the Lorne Trottier Chair in Astrophysics and Cosmology at McGill.

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In recognition of this historic gift, the McGill Space Institute will be renamed the Trottier Space Institute at McGill.

Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets at Université de Montréal

For its part, Université de Montréal’s Institute for Research on Exoplanets will receive $10 million to ensure the sustainability of its activities. Leaders in exoplanet research, iREx scientists have made discoveries that profoundly changed what we know about worlds beyond our solar system. Led by astrophysicist René Doyon, a Professor of Physics and the Canadian Principal Investigator of the James Webb mission, iREx has developed major scientific instruments, including an infrared camera that has captured remarkable and previously unseen images of space. In addition, iREx devotes great effort to sharing knowledge with the general public. The Trottier Family Foundation’s major gift will allow iREx’s scientific team to continue its research to discover life outside the solar system. In recognition of this exceptional donation and the support of Lorne Trottier and the Trottier Family Foundation since its inception, iREx will be renamed the Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets.

Leading hub of space research

“These devoted researchers scanning our skies have already broadened our horizons in a big way,” said UdeM rector Daniel Jutras. “Probing the mysteries of the universe, they have helped us come to recognize the beauty and fragility of our planet. The unprecedented support for Montreal scientists offered by Mr. Trottier and the Trottier Family Foundation will also help preserve our ecosystems here on Earth. It’s a gift that will continue to enrich future generations.”

“We are very grateful to McGill alumnus Lorne Trottier and the Trottier Family Foundation, whose tremendous contributions to McGill and to its Faculties of Science and Engineering over many years have helped further our understanding of our world and our universe,” said McGill’s Interim Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Christopher Manfredi. “This most recent gift, spread out among two of our city’s great universities, will cement Montreal’s place as a leading hub of space research within Canada and the world.”

“The Trottier Family Foundation is pleased to support the world-class work of the Trottier Space Institute at McGill and the Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets at the Université de Montréal,” said Lorne Trottier, the co-founder of Matrox, an industry leader in computer graphics, imaging and video products. “Science has brought untold benefits to humanity,” added Trottier, who noted astronomy was the first science. “Copernicus, Galileo and Newton laid the groundwork for the scientific revolution that’s transformed lives in so many ways. Understanding more about the laws of the universe and its origins leads to discoveries and innovations that are beneficial – in addition to satisfying our deep curiosity.”

Love of science and technology

With a lifelong love of science and technology, Lorne Trottier earned bachelor and master’s degrees in Engineering at McGill and has received several honorary degrees, including from McGill and the Université de Montréal. His family foundation has supported exoplanet research at iREx at the Université de Montréal and provided support to many key institutions on the island of Montreal. The foundation has supported astronomy education for youth across Canada and funds various initiatives promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) throughout Canada.

The Trottier Family Foundation’s generosity has made an indelible mark on McGill, including the Lorne M. Trottier Building on campus that bears his name, the creation of institutes in the Faculties of Science and Engineering and support for popular public education initiatives.

The Trottier Space Institute has flourished since its creation in 2015 with support from the Trottier Family Foundation. The interdisciplinary centre brings together researchers in Astrophysics, Planetary Science, Atmospheric Sciences, Astrobiology and other space-related areas at McGill. McGill researchers have detected thousands of fast radio bursts and identified magnetars as one likely origin of this mysterious phenomenon, helped make the first image of a black hole using the Event Horizon Telescope, and developed a microbial life detection system for space missions.

Since its inception in 2014, UdeM’s Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets successfully recruited more than 60 of the world’s most renowned researchers in a variety of domains of expertise related to the search for and understanding of alien worlds beyond our solar system. Over the years, the members of iREx have made major advances in astrophysical research, including, in 2019, the first detection of water on a planet, K2-18 b, in the habitable zone of the star it orbits, and in 2022, the discovery of a candidate “ocean planet,” TOI-1452 b, that made headlines around the world. Researchers from iREx are also leaders in the conception and development of cutting-edge astronomical instruments that have been sent to world-class telescopes all over the globe and in space.

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YouTuber Mark Rober drops eggs from space to land in Victor Valley – VVdailypress.com

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Former NASA engineer Mark Rober, the YouTuber best known for his Backyard Squirrel Maze and Exploding Glitter Bomb videos, recently dropped a couple of eggs from space that fell in the Victor Valley.

The 42-year-old Rober and his team of scientists dropped both eggs, with the intention of them not breaking, from a height of nearly 19 miles and with the help of a high-altitude balloon provided by Night Crew Labs.

The launch occurred earlier this year, but the “Egg Drop From Space” video was uploaded to YouTube on Black Friday.

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It includes shots of the team driving on Bear Valley Road toward Deadman’s Point in Apple Valley. Also shown are Bell Mountain, Interstate 15 and an area west of I-15 and near the Dale Evans Parkway offramp. 

A shot from the weather balloon in space showed the Victor Valley, including landmarks such as Spring Valley Lake and the Mojave River. 

The egg-drop project

When Rober started conceptualizing his egg drop project nearly three years ago, he knew that a successful record drop would come from his experience of landing scientific gear on other planets when he worked for NASA.

A graduate of USC, Rober worked at NASA for nine years, seven of them on the Mars Curiosity project. He also spent five years at Apple working on advanced virtual reality technology for autonomous vehicles before quitting to become a full-time YouTuber.

Rober confessed that before he embarked on the egg drop project, he didn’t know that it would be the most “physically, financially and mentally draining video” he would ever attempt. 

The plan

Rober’s team included rocket and propulsion specialist Joe Barnard, of BPS Systems, which helped with the rocket’s guidance system and design.

Rober’s original plan was to affix an egg onto a rocket, which would be lifted by a large weather balloon. Once in space, the rocket would be released and would guide the rocket to an area over the drop target. 

At 300 feet above the ground, the egg would be released and free-fall toward a specially designed mattress. 

After determining the terminal velocity of the egg to be 74 mph, he successfully tested the speed inside his Crunch Lab located near San Francisco

Rober and his team then headed to the Northern California town of Gridley for three low-altitude tests, which all failed. 

‘A fatal flaw’

Rober sought the guidance of NASA engineer Adam Steltzner, who works for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and on several flight projects including Galileo, Cassini, Mars Pathfinder and the Mars Exploration Rovers.

After listening to Rober and details about his project, Steltzner found a “fatal flaw” in the project and asked him, “How did you not get busted by the FAA?”

Rober realized that his project was akin to creating a precision-guided missile, which is frowned upon by the federal government. 

Heading to the High Desert

After going back to the drawing board, Rober’s team decided to conduct a rocket launch with a general egg drop target area in the High Desert. 

The launch would use a weather balloon, which would lift a larger and heavier rocket to guarantee the egg would reach supersonic speed on its way down. 

The helium-filled balloon would release the rocket, which would begin separating. 

A portion of the rocket, carrying the egg, would slow before losing its nose cone and deploying a parachute and cushioned airbags, which were borrowed from the Spirit and Opportunity landing projects.

Just before liftoff, Rober discovered that the newly designed, the two-piece rocket might unexpectedly separate at Mach 2. 

Rober and his team fixed the rocket’s connection point and ran vacuum and heat tests on the egg chamber.

They also built redundancy into the system, which included creating a custom beach ball, filled with packing materials to protect a second egg.

The entire payload, suspended from the balloon, would detach and simply fall to earth over the target. 

The launch

Rober’s friend, JPL systems engineer Allen Chen, traveled to the Victor Valley for Rober’s second launch. 

In 2012, Chen uttered the famous words, “Touchdown confirmed, we’re safe on Mars,” after the Curiosity Rover had survived the harrowing plunge and landed on the red planet.

Somewhere near Apple Valley, the lift-off of Rober’s balloon, rocket, beach ball and eggs was successful. 

As the team drove and arrived at the projected landing site, they discovered that the balloon had surpassed the 100,000-foot mark. 

As the group celebrated, moments later, they discovered that the balloon had suddenly lost altitude and came crashing down to earth. 

As the balloon ascended, the cord that held the rocket, beach ball and eggs had wound so tight that it pulled down on the balloon, causing it to come hurtling down at 150 mph, “Which is way faster than the eggs could survive,” Rober explained. 

As the team looked for the wreckage, they spotted the parachute, the rocket and the beach ball. 

Rober was excited that at 20,000 feet, the payload had autonomously detached itself from the balloon. 

Rober held back his excitement as he opened the rocket to inspect the egg. 

As a smiling Rober pulled an uncracked egg from the rocket and held it high, Chen joyously said, “Touchdown confirmed, we’re safe on earth.”

That was repeated when Rober ripped open the beach ball and pulled out a second uncracked egg that he kissed. 

“Two for two, baby!” shouted Rober as he high-fived Chen. “Two for two!”

Rober ended the video by saying that the egg drop from space project reminded him that in life things rarely unfold how we think they will. 

“But by learning from your failures, coupled with a bit of tenacity, us humans can accomplish a feat as incredible as the world’s smartest Martian robot or as ridiculous as the world’s tallest egg drop,” Rober said. 

Daily Press reporter Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227 or RDeLaCruz@VVDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz

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In a B.C. first, UVic mini-satellite launched into space after four years of work

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A University of Victoria satellite the size of a two-litre milk carton, designed to calibrate light, was fired into space Saturday, after four years of work by dozens of students, faculty and researchers.

ORCASat started its journey to space at 11:20 a.m. Saturday as part of NASA’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Early this morning, about 4 a.m., the satellite is scheduled to be taken on board the International Space Station where it will wait for a few weeks before being fired into space to orbit the Earth for as long as it can survive.

Saturday’s successful launch was extra-sweet because a planned Tuesday launch was postponed due to poor weather. Watchers from UVic returned home after the delayed launch.

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A nervous Alex Doknjas, ORCASat project manager, went into his family’s living room at 10:30 a.m. Saturday where he waited with loved ones and about 20 others on a video chat, including a UVic group, to watch the event together. Cheers and claps erupted when the rocket launched on time. “It’s great. It’s fantastic,” he said.

There was a little wind picking up on the launch site shortly before liftoff was scheduled and Doknjas said he was worried it was about to get scrubbed again, but that didn’t happen.

The excitement has been years in the making thanks to about 140 people who have been part of a team at the University of Victoria Centre for Aerospace Research.

Full-time researchers, co-op and volunteer students from UVic Satellite Design, UBC Orbit, and Simon Fraser University Satellite Design have all contributed.

The ORCASat (for Optical Reference Calibration Satellite) measures 10 centimetres by 10 centimetres by 23 centimetres and weighs 2.5 kilograms.

Doknjas said as far as he knows this is the first “Cubesat” designed and built in this province. “That’s a pretty big milestone.”

The estimated date to launch ORCASat is between Dec. 29 and the first week in January.

ORCASat will be doing a 400-kilometre orbit around Earth and travelling at 7.5 kilometres a second. “It’s pretty fast.”

It is not known exactly how long it will last but it could be six to eight months, up to 18 months, Doknjas said. Factors such as sun flares, solar radiation, pressure and more can all impact the life of the satellite.

ORCASat is basically an artificial star, a reference light source in orbit that can be viewed by telescopes on Earth.

Astronomers can measure how bright ORCASat appears, just as they would an astronomical object.

At the same time, the satellite, using two laser light sources, will measure the amount of light that an astronomical object is emitting.

This will allow ground-based telescopes to be calibrated to measure the absolute brightness of an astronomical object, not how they appear after passing through the atmosphere and the optics of a telescope.

This is the first satellite ever to carry a light source capable of performing this experiment to this level of accuracy.

It is a proof-of-concept technology which in the future could be developed to be applicable in such areas as climate change, Earth observation and methane gas research, Doknjas said.

parrais@timescolonist.com

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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NASA’s Orion spacecraft breaks Apollo 13 flight record

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The Artemis 1 Orion crew vehicle has set a new record for a NASA flight. At approximately 8:40AM ET on Saturday, Orion flew farther than any spacecraft designed to carry human astronauts had ever before, surpassing the previous record set by Apollo 13 back in 1970. As of 10:17AM ET, Orion was approximately 249,666 miles ( from 401,798 kilometers) from Earth.

“Artemis I was designed to stress the systems of Orion and we settled on the distant retrograde orbit as a really good way to do that,” said Jim Geffre, Orion spacecraft integration manager. “It just so happened that with that really large orbit, high altitude above the moon, we were able to pass the Apollo 13 record. But what was more important though, was pushing the boundaries of exploration and sending spacecraft farther than we had ever done before.”

Of all the missions that could have broken the record, it’s fitting that Artemis 1 was the one to do it. As Space.com points out, Apollo 13’s original flight plan didn’t call for a record-setting flight. It was only after a mid-mission explosion forced NASA to plot a new return course that Apollo 13’s Odyssey command module set the previous record at 248,655 miles (400,171 kilometers) from Earth.

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With a limited oxygen supply on the Aquarius Lunar Module, NASA needed to get Apollo 13 back to Earth as quickly as possible. The agency eventually settled on a flight path that used the Moon’s gravity to slingshot Apollo 13 back to Earth. One of the NASA personnel who was critical to the safe return of astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise was Arturo Campos. He wrote the emergency plan that gave the Command and Service Module enough power to make it back to Earth. Artemis 1 is carrying a “Moonikin” test dummy named after the late Arturo.

Earlier this week, Orion completed a flyby of the Moon. After the spacecraft completes half an orbit around the satellite, it will slingshot itself toward the Earth. NASA expects Orion to splash down off the coast of San Diego on December 11th.

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