On Monday October 5th and Tuesday October 6th AlbertaSat attended ISSET’s Space Exploration Symposium. Monday night featured a talk by Dr. Alan Stern, a planetary scientist and principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission. More information about Dr. Alan Stern and his work can be found here. Tuesday afternoon was filled with talks by AlbertaSat and Dr. Chris Sallaberger, the president of Canadensys Aerospace Corp.
Dr. Alan Stern’s talk on New Horizons covered many aspects of the mission, from the planning stages to the launch and beyond. New Horizons took 26 years to plan in total, and was launched in January 2006. It took 4 years to build and launch New Horizons. To put the time it takes to reach Pluto into perspective, it takes 9 hours to cross the orbit of our moon and 13 months to get past Jupiter.
The spacecraft itself is very impressive. Not only did it only take 4 years to build and launch, but it has an extensive autopilot to function pretty much on its own and deal with any technical problems. This is important as it takes 4.5 hours for any messages to reach Earth. The journey to Pluto was so innovative that there was little data to help the New Horizons team plan a route for their flyby. To solve this problem, the New Horizons team spent January 2015 to July 2015 taking photographs to figure out navigation. This journey has been very much about solving problems, and as Dr. Alan Stern advised, “you have to really want it and stick with it.”
New Horizons’ successful flyby has provided NASA with so much data that’ll take almost a year to get to Earth. So far, NASA has found evidence of mountains that show Pluto has a nitrogen ‘frosting’ and a crust of water ice. It also has nitrogen ice glacial flows. Evidence suggests that Pluto used to have a thicker atmosphere. The Sputnik region (the heart-shaped region pictured above) is about the same size as Texas and has a young surface which brings many current theories into question.
New Horizons is currently mapping the night side of pluto using the reflection in the atmosphere. Stay up-to-date with their progress on NASA’s blog. You can also watch all of Dr. Alan Sterns’s presentation here.
On Tuesday, October 6th Dr. Christian Sallaberger presented on Space Activities and Opportunities in Canada at 5:00pm. His talk included Canadian space programs and activities, and opportunities for the students. Representatives from AlbertaSat presented between 2pm and 3pm and had several posters on display. Topics included Open CubeSat Platforms and Kalman Inspired Filters.