RainCube Spreads Its Umbrella

There are times when a mechanism comes to your attention that you have to watch time and time again, to study its intricacies and marvel at the skill of its designer. Sometimes it can be a complex mechanism such as a musical automaton or a mechanical loom, but other times it can be a device whose apparent simplicity hides its underlying cleverness. Such a moment came for us today, and it’s one we have to share with you.

RainCube is a satellite, as its name suggests in the CubeSat form factor and carrying radar instruments to study Earthly precipitation. One of the demands of its radar system is a parabolic dish antenna, and even at its 37.5 GHz  that antenna needs to be significantly larger than its 6U CubeSat chassis.

The unfolding parabola in action.
The unfolding parabola in action.

It is the JPL engineers’ solution to this problem that is the beautiful mechanism we want to show you. The parabola is folded within itself and tightly furled round the feedhorn within the body of the satellite. As the feedhorn emerges, first the inner sections unfurl and then the outer edge of the parabola springs out to form the dish antenna shape. Simultaneously a mechanism of simplicity, cleverness, and beauty, one we’d be very proud of if it were our creation.

There is nothing new in collapsible parabolas used in spacecraft antennas, petal and umbrella-like designs have been a feature of some of the most famous craft. But the way that this one has been fitted into such a small space (and so elegantly) makes it special, we hope you’ll agree.

[via space.com]

Simple Directional WiFi Antenna

Back in 2007, [Stathack] rented an apartment in Thailand. This particular apartment didn’t include any Internet access. It turned out that getting a good connection would cost upwards of $100 per month, and also required a Thai identification card. Not wanting to be locked into a 12-month contract, [Stathack] decided to build himself a directional WiFi antenna to get free WiFi from a shop down the street.

The three main components of this build are a USB WiFi dongle, a baby bottle, and a parabolic Asian mesh wire spoon. The spoon is used as a reflector. The parabolic shape means that it will reflect radio signals to a specific focal point. The goal is to get the USB dongle as close to the focal point as possible. [Stathack] did a little bit of math and used a Cartesian equation to figure out the optimal location.

Once the location was determined, [Stathack] cut a hole in the mesh just big enough for the nipple of the small baby bottle. The USB dongle is housed inside of the bottle for weatherproofing. A hole is cut in the nipple for a USB cable. Everything is held together with electrical tape as needed.

[Stathack] leaves this antenna on his balcony aiming down the street. He was glad to find that he is easily able to pick up the WiFi signal from the shop down the street. He was also surprised to see that he can pick up signals from a high-rise building over 1km away. Not bad for an antenna made from a spoon and a baby bottle; plus it looks less threatening than some of the cantenna builds we’ve seen.

Roll your own parabolic microphone

Parabolic microphones are used to listen in from a distance. You see them on the sidelines of NFL football games, but they’re part of the standard issue in detective and spy novels. Now you can build your own parabolic microphone by following this example.

The one component that may be hard to find is the parabolic reflector. You cannot simply use a bowl or other curved object as the precise parabolic shape ensures that sound waves are reflected onto one finite focal point. For this build the reflector was obtained from an eBay seller. But the other parts are scavenged from easy to find sources. The microphone itself is an inexpensive element from Radioshack. It is mounted in the shell from a tweeter speaker, which helps to gather the sound if the element isn’t exactly aligned with the focal point. The setup also needs a preamplification system, which uses many components. Luckily there’s a schematic and other reference material linked in the write up.

You can also build a laser microphone which detects sound waves on a pane of glass.

[Thanks Anonymous]