Between 26-29 May 2017, we participated in the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) organised by the National Space Society (NSS) in St. Louis, USA.
ISDC is an annual event held in a different city each year. This was our third ISDC event. We have made presentations on our projects at ISDC 2016 (Puerto Rico) and ISDC 2015 (Toronto). We enjoy participating in ISDC as it attended by all age-groups, including students. And we meet those who are simply interested in space as well as professionals working in space sector (including NASA engineers and astronauts). There are lots of plenaries and parallel sessions spread over four days on wide ranging space issues. This allows us to attend sessions of our interest, and learn about new space initiatives. Last year we learnt about the StarShot – Breakthrough Initiative to have a flyby mission to reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years from launch. This year we learnt more about the Europa Clipper mission to Europa (the icy moon of Jupiter). Parallel sessions are good avenues to meet the presenters and ask them questions.
We were invited to give 2 presentations and conduct a workshop for middle school students at the ISDC this year. One of our presentation was under the track “Many Roads to Space” and was titled : Making Sense of Data from Space: The Citizen Science Approach. We presented our experiences of using satellite data from various NASA Satellites (LandSat, Terra Modis, Terra Aqua) as well as Canadian Satellites (RadarSat-2) for our projects on tracking droughts, migration patterns, volcano eruptions, and other events. The other presentation one was on Maker Families: Building Together on Space, Science, and Technology under the NextGen track.
We conducted a 2 hour workshop for 55 middle school students on making spectroscopes. The workshop had a lecture component, where we talked about how astronomers are able to collect so much information about the stars (including their temperature, age, distance…) simply from the light we receive from them. We also demonstrated spectrum of different stars and students were able to rank the stars by their temperature based on their spectrum. The lecture component was followed by actual making. We gave each student a tube and a diffraction grating (from old CD Roms). They were able to join them together, and create slits for incoming light to complete their spectroscopes. The students were able to see different spectra when spectroscope was pointed to lights inside and outside the conference room.
Apart from our sessions, we particularly enjoyed the panel discussion on the documentary Fight for Space that explores the future of NASA and the US space program. Artash asked the panelists why the production of Saturn V rockets which took astronauts to the moon and back successfully was stopped. Why there were no Saturn VI, Saturn VII and so on? The newer versions of these rockets would have seen improvements in their design and performance. This would have been a faster process for designing launch vehicles to take us to the Moon, Mars and beyond rather than starting afresh every time.
There were several exhibitors at the International Space Development Conference 2017 this year, including Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum, Stofiel Aerospace, the Challenger Center, Enterprise in Space, and others. We spent a lot of time on the displays by the Robotics team as well as the Drone team from the Missouri State University. It was fun touching and taking apart different sections of the rover and learning more about the motors and sensors attached to it.
The demonstration by the drone team was awesome. We also learnt about the upcoming drone competitions they were participating in, and the challenges they will have to take up in these competitions. Especially interesting was the algorithm they have developed to train the drone on how to perform better in these competitions.
One of the new things we learnt was 3D printing of rocket nozzles by Stofiel Aerospace for their balloon assisted rocket launch project to put small payloads in space. Ordinarily the 3D material melts at 200 degrees centigrade. However binding it with heat sink material raises its melting point to over 2000 degrees centigrade. This is an innovative idea and points us in the direction of print your own rockets. We have now plans to 3D print our own rocket nozzles and see how they perform!