Communicating from anywhere with a SPOT Connect

[Nate] over at Sparkfun put up a great tutorial for using the SPOT personal satellite communicator with just about any microcontroller. These personal satellite transmitters were originally intended to pair with the bluetooth module of a smart phone, allowing you to send a short 41-character message from anywhere in the world. Now, you can use these neat little boxes for getting data from remote sensors, or even telemetry from a weather balloon.

[Nate]‘s teardown expands on [natrium42/a>] and [Travis Goodspeed]‘s efforts in reverse-engineering the SPOT satellite communicator. The hardware works with the Globalstar satellite constellation only for uplink use. That is, you can’t send stuff to a remote device with a SPOT. After poking around the circuitry of the original, first-edition SPOT, [Nate] pulled out a much cheaper SPOT Connect from his bag of tricks. Like the previous hacks, tying into the bluetooth TX/RX lines granted [Nate] full access to broadcast anything he wants to a satellite sitting in orbit.

We’ve seen the SPOT satellite messaging service put to use in a high altitude balloon over the wilds of northern California where it proved to be a very reliable, if expensive, means of data collection. Sometimes, though, XBees and terrestrial radio just aren’t good enough, and you need a satellite solution.

The SPOT satellite service has an enormous coverage area, seen in the title pic of this post. The only major landmasses not covered are eastern and southern Africa, India, and the southern tip of South America. If anyone out there wants to build a transatlantic UAV, SPOT, and [Nate]‘s awesome tutorial, are the tools to use.

Tip ‘o the hat to [MS3FGX] for sending this one in.

Hackaday Links: February 26, 2012

Wii Nunchuk controlled Monotron

Adding a bit of motion control to your music synthesizer turns out to be pretty easy. Here’s an example of a Wii Nunchuk used to control a Monotron. [Thanks John]

Hackers on the Moon and other space related goals

Yep apparently a non-government backed expedition to the moon is in the works. But you’ve got to walk before you can crawl and one of the first parts of the process is to launch a hackerspace-backed satellite network called the Hackerspace Global Grid. Check out this interview with one of the initiative’s founders [Hadez]. [Thanks MS3FGX]

Laser pointers and frosted glass

We were under the impression that a laser show required finely calibrated hardware. But [Jas Strong] proves us wrong by making pretty colors with laser pointers and slowly rotating glass. [Thanks Mike]

MSP430 Twitter Ticker

[Matt] built a Twitter ticker using the TI Launchpad. It works on an LED matrix or OLED display along with a Python script which handles the API.

Android floppy drive hack

[Pedro] shows us how he reads floppy disks with his Android tablet. The hardware includes a docking station to add a USB port to the tablet, as well as a hub and USB floppy drive. On the software side of things an Android port of DOSbox does the rest.

Fixing that broken laptop power jack

It seems that there’s a whole range of Toshiba Satellite laptop computers that suffer from a power jack design that is prone to breaking. We see some good and some bad in this. The jack is not mounted to the circuit board, so if it gets jammed into the body like the one above it doesn’t hose the electronics. But what has happened here is the plastic brackets inside the case responsible for keeping the jack in place have failed. You won’t be able to plug in the power adapter unless you figure out a way to fix it.

We’d wager the hardest part of this repair is getting the case open. Once inside, just cut away all of the mangled support tabs to make room for the replacement jack. The one used here has a threaded cuff that makes it a snap to mount the new part to the case. Clip off the old jack and solder the wires (mind the polarity!) and you’re in business.

Anyone know why we don’t see more of the magnetic connectors (MagSafe) that the Apple laptops have? Is it a patent issue?

[Thanks Dan]

Tracking satellites with an Arduino

The guys over at brainwagon just finished up ANGST, the Arduino n’ Gameduinio Satellite Tracker, a build that displays 160 different satellites in Earth orbit on any SVGA monitor.

The build is of course based off an Arduino and Gameduino shield. A real-time clock is always needed for a satellite tracker, so a DS1307 RTC is thrown into the mix. The satellite data is stored on a 128KB EEPROM that is big enough to hold 750 different satellites and orbits.

The software side of things is a bit trickier. The guys at brainwagon used [James Miller]‘s very popular and very old-school PLAN-13 sat tracking software. This orbit calculation program was published in 1983 and has since been ported from BBC Basic to just about every system imaginable.

Once the ANGST is hooked up and powered on, it reads the real-time clock and calculates the position of a satellite. This is done in real-time and updated every three minutes. On the screen, the last orbit (and a little more) is displayed along with the sun and the location of the ANGST. You might not find something like ANGST at the Space Command at NORAD, but we can’t think of a better way to keep track of the cubesats and spy sats above our heads.

[Read more...]

Grab your own images from NOAA weather satellites

Can you believe that [hpux735] pulled this satellite weather image down from one of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather satellites using home equipment? It turns out that they’ve got three weather satellites in low earth orbit that pass overhead a few times a day. If you’ve got some homebrew hardware and post processing chops you can grab your own images from these weather satellites.

The first step is data acquisition. [hpux735] used a software defined radio receiver that he built from a kit. This makes us think back to the software-radio project that [Jeri Ellsworth] built using an FPGA–could that be adapted for this purpose? But we digress. To record the incoming data a Mac program called DSP Radio was used. Once you do capture an audio sample, you’ll need something to turn it into an image. It just so happens there’s a program specifically for weather image decoding called WXtoImg, and another which runs under Linux called WXAPT. Throw in a little post processing, Robert’s your mother’s brother, and you’ve got the image seen above.

[Hpux735] mentioned that he’s working on a post about the antenna he built for the project and has future plans for an automated system where he’ll have a webpage that always shows the most current image. We’re looking forward hearing about that.

Send a satellite into space for $300

There’s a new Kickstarter campaign that promises to launch a personalized satellite into orbit for 300 bones.

The KickSat project is headed by [Zac Manchester], [Mason Peck], [Justin Atchison] and a few more contributors hailing from Cornell University. Their goal is to launch a CubeSat filled with hundreds of postage stamp-sized satellites and release these ‘Sprites’ into low Earth orbit.

The Sprite concept has been in development for a while now and has been featured on IEEE Spectrum. The tiny satellites are simple PCBs with a microcontroller and a radio powered by solar cells and capacitors. The first version of the Sprite is designed to beam down a few bytes of data – just a unique identifier and a Kickstarter backer’s name. Future versions will undoubtedly include more advanced sensors such as cameras, thermometers, and very tiny particle detectors.

The KickSat team will use the funding from the Kickstarter campaign to test and integrate the systems. The team hopes to hitch a ride on one of NASAs many CubeSat launches, but if they get funding from 400 people, they’ll get to fly on a commercial launch by early 2013.

We were wondering about the amazing amount of space junk this KickSat/Sprite build will produce, but the team says not to worry: The Sprites fly in a pretty low orbit and will reenter the atmosphere a few weeks after being deployed. Not bad, considering Sputnik orbited for only 3 months.

Hacking SPOT personal satellite tracker to pass more information

For less than $100 you can buy a little tracking module that will upload your location to a satellite. But you’ll only get latitude and longitude information. [Natrium42] spent some time reverse engineering the hardware, and the communications protocol, to allow custom data to be transferred using a SPOT module.

The flat fee for the hardware includes a one-year service plan allowing you to tack your device on the SPOT website. [Natrium42] started poking around in the transmitted data packages, and figured he could push custom messages like altitude data if he had some way to encode it as a valid latitude/longitude package. He found that location data is transmitted as two sets of three bytes each. The four least significant bits of each set get rounded by the server, leaving a total of 40 usable bits between the two data sets. He wrote encoding and decoding functions that will allow you to transfer whatever information you want.

So what is this good for? To get the process working he removed the MSP430 microcontroller from the board and is using his own replacement. So you can transmit GPS data from the onboard module, your own module, or sensor data for anything you’re able to hook up the to the replacement uC.