Retrotechtacular: FAX as a Service in 1984

If you tell someone these days to send you something via FAX, you are likely to get a look similar to the one you’d get if you asked them to park your horse. But in 1984, FAX was a mysterious new technology (well, actually, it wasn’t, but it wasn’t yet common to most people).

fed-ex_zapFedEx–the people who got famous delivering packages overnight–made a bold move to seize a new market: Zapmail (not to be confused with the modern mass mailing service). The idea was simple (you can see a commercial for it in grainy VHS splendor, below): Overnight is great but sometimes you need something sent across the country now. A FedEx driver picks up your documents, carries them to a FedEx office. There the documents FAX to another FedEx office where another driver delivers the printed copy. The process took two hours to get a paper document from one side of the continent to another.

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HFSat and The All-HF Amateur Radio Satellite Transponder

One facet of the diverse pursuit that is amateur radio involves the use of amateur radio satellites. These have a long history stretching back to the years shortly after the first space launches, and have been launched as “piggy-back” craft using spare capacity on government and commercial launches.

Though a diverse range of payloads have been carried by these satellites over the years, the majority of amateur radio satellites have featured transponders working in the VHF and UHF spectrum. Most often their links have used the 2m (144 MHz) and 70cm (430MHz) bands. A few have had downlinks in the 10m (28MHz) band, but this has been as far as they have ventured into the HF spectrum.

A new cubesat designed and built by trainees at the US Naval Academy promises to change all that, because it will feature an all-HF transponder with a 15m (21MHz) uplink and a 10m downlink. To that end it will carry a full size 10m wire dipole antenna. The 30KHz wide transponder is an inverting design intended to cancel out the effects of Doppler shift. In their write-up they provide a fascinating description of many aspects of cubesat design, one which should be of significant interest beyond the world of amateur radio.

If the subject of amateur radio in space interests you, have a look at our series on the matter, first covering the OSCAR satellites, and then our recent feature on its use in manned missions.

[via Southgate ARC]

Modest Motor Has Revolutionary Applications

Satellites make many of our everyday activities possible, and the technology continues to improve by leaps and bounds. A prototype, recently completed by [Arda Tüysüz]’s team at ETH Zürich’s Power Electronics Systems Lab in collaboration with its Celeroton spinoff, aims to improve satellite attitude positioning with a high speed, magnetically levitated motor.

Beginning as a doctoral thesis work led by [Tüysüz], the motor builds on existing technologies, but has been arranged into a new application — with great effect. Currently, the maneuvering motors on board satellites are operated at a low rpm to reduce wear, must be sealed in a low-nitrogen environment to prevent rusting of the components, and the microvibrations induced by the ball-bearings in the motors reduces the positioning accuracy. With one felling swoop, this new prototype motor overcomes all of those problems.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Reverse GPS

Every time you watch a SpaceX livestream to see a roaring success or fireball on a barge (pick your poison), you probably see a few cubesats go up. Everytime you watch a Soyuz launch that is inexplicably on before anywhere else, you’re seeing a few cubesats go up. There are now hundreds of these 10 cm satellites in orbit, and SatNogs, the winner of the Hackaday Prize a two years ago, gives all these cubesats a global network of ground stations.

There is one significant problem with a global network of satellite tracking ground stations: you need to know the orbit of all these cubesats. This, as with all Low Earth Orbit deployments that do not have thrusters and rarely have attitude control, is a problem. These cubesats are tumbling through the rarefied atmosphere, leading to orbits that are unpredictable over several months.

[hornig] is working on a solution to the problem of tracking hundreds of cubesats that is, simply, reverse GPS. Instead of using multiple satellites to determine a position on Earth, this system is using multiple receiving stations on Earth’s surface to determine the orbit of a satellite.

The hardware for [hornig]’s Distributed Ground Station Network is as simple as you would expect. It’s just an RTL-SDR TV tuner USB dongle, a few antennas, a GPS receiver, and a Raspberry Pi connected to the Internet. This device needs to be simple; unlike SatNogs, where single base station in the middle of nowhere can still receive data from cubesats, this system needs multiple receivers all within the view of a satellite.

The modern system of GPS satellites is one of the greatest technological achievements of all time. Not only did the US need to put highly accurate clocks in orbit, the designers of the system needed to take into account relativistic effects. Doing GPS in reverse – determining the orbit of satellites on the ground – is likewise a very impressive project, and something that is certainly a contender for this year’s Hackaday Prize.

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GNU Radio for Space (and Aircraft)

GOMX-3 is a CubeSat with several payloads. One of them is a software defined radio configured to read ADS-B signals sent by commercial aircraft. The idea is that a satellite can monitor aircraft over oceans and other places where there no RADAR coverage. ADB-S transmits the aircraft’s ID, its position, altitude, and intent.

The problem is that ADS-B has a short-range (about 80 nautical miles). GOMX-1 proved that the signals can be captured from orbit. GOMX-3 has more capability. The satellite has a helical antenna and an FPGA.

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OzQube-1: A Tiny Australian Satellite

Over the last couple of decades we have become used to the possibility of launching a satellite into orbit no longer being the exclusive preserve of superpowers. Since the first CubeSats were launched over a decade ago a myriad others have followed, and scarcely a week passes without news of another interesting project in this area.

OzQube-1 is just such a satellite, designed for imaging of the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s the brainchild of Australian [Stuart McAndrew]. He’s posted significant details of its design: it’s a PocketQube, at 50mm cubed, an eighth the volume of a CubeSat, and its main instrument is a 2 megapixel camera with a 25mm lens. Images will be transmitted to earth as slow-scan digital video via the 70cm amateur band, the dipole antenna being made from a springy tape measure which will unfurl upon launch. Attitude control is passive, coming from a magnet aligned to ensure the camera will be pointing Earthwards as it passes over the Southern Hemisphere. The project has a little way to go yet, but working prototypes have been completed and it has a Gofundme campaign under way to help raise the money for a launch.

There are plenty of Cubesat and other small satellite builds to be found on the web, here at Hackaday we’ve covered a significant number of them. Many of them are the fruits of well-funded university departments or other entities with deep pockets, but this one comes from a lone builder from Western Australia. We like that, and we wish OzQube-1 every success!

Painting the Sky with Shooting Stars

Japanese company ALE has been working on a new type of sky show, artificial shooting stars, literally creating an artificial meteor shower at a height of 40 to 50 miles (60 to 80km). The show will be visible to anyone within a 125 mile diameter area (200km), meaning that people in New York city and Philadelphia or Los Angeles and San Diego can watch the same show. Aptly named, they’re calling the project “Sky Canvas”.

The plan is to have a satellite, containing around 500 to 1000 source particles, discharge the particles with a specially designed device. As the video below shows, by ejecting the particles in a continuous manner, rather than all at once, they’ll create the equivalent of a meteor shower. The particles will travel around 1/3rd the way around the Earth before entering the atmosphere, creating the shower of shooting stars. Different colors will be possible by using different materials for the particles, something this fireball cannon illustrates.

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