DIY space experiments within a ping pong ball ‘satellite’

Pongsat space satellite

Ahhh space. The final frontier. While many people dream of one day becoming an astronaut (and possibly battling aliens or cylons), it’s a select few who actually make it their reality. Fortunately for us, there’s a middle ground that allows the masses to still have some fun in the sky. Enter the “Pongsat” program – space experiments within a ping pong ball.

Created by JP Aerospace, this free program allows anyone to create their own mini experiment and send it off to the edge of space. The imagination is the limit. Curious if a marshmallow will expand? Interested what the temperature would be? Wonder if you can charge a solar battery? Stuff it inside a ping pong ball and find out!

Check out the PDF Users Guide to get started, then their Blog and Facebook page for more up to date information.  Now go out there and get your experiment to Mars! (Or at least 100,00 feet)

Watch a video of in flight footage after the break.

[via adafruit]
Continue reading “DIY space experiments within a ping pong ball ‘satellite’”

UPDATE: Roll your own GPS can now track twice as many satellites


[Andrew Holme] wrote in to tell us about some work he’s done to improve his scratch-built GPS receiver. He figured out a way to use the same hardware but double the number of satellites it can track to a total of eight. When we looked at the original hardware about a year ago it was limited to monitoring just four satellites. That’s the bare minimum for calculating position data. This will not only help increase the accuracy, but remove the problems that would have been cause if just one satellite was dropped because of an obstruction or other issue.

His solution is based entirely on using the FPGA in a different way. He had taken up almost all of the gates available in the Xilinx Spartan 3 chip. Now he’s implemented a CPU on the chip and is able take some of the work off of the hardware gate design by running code on it. He also found and squashed a bug in how the data was processed. He says his original work wasn’t taking into account the rotation of the earth when determining position. All of these improvements put his accuracy at +/- five meters even when he’s not tracking all eight satellites!

Observe a satellite’s Morse Code message today!


If you live in the Eastern portion of the United States and the skies are clear you can see a student built satellite flashing LEDs in Morse Code today. But don’t worry. If you it’s cloudy or if you live elsewhere there are several other opportunities to see it in the coming days.

This is the Niwaka Fitsat-1. It was developed by students at the [Fukuoka Institute of Technology] and deployed from the International Space Station on October 4th. Included in the payload is an array of LEDs seen in the image above. On a set schedule these are used to flash a Morse Code message for two minutes at a time. That is what’s shown in the image on the upper right.

You can look up information on seeing Fitsat-1 in your own area using this webpage. All of the observation windows in our area require a pair of binoculars or better. We’re not sure if there is any case in which this can be seen by the naked eye.

[Thanks SWHarden and KomradBob]

Retrotechtacular: The birth of satellite communications

Last week was the fifty year anniversary of the launching of Telstar 1, the first communications satellite. Take a look back at the marvel of the early technology as shown in this newsreel footage about the first broadcast. The first formal use was a speech by President Kennedy allowing most of Europe to “witness democracy at work”. You’ve got to love that cold war era propaganda.

In addition to this electronics-filled marvel there were other experiments going on at the time that used passive devices as satellites. Project Echo sought to put reflective balloons at an altitude where they could be used to bounce signals around the curvature of the earth. This came almost exactly two years before the advent of Telstar 1.

There was a lot of media coverage of this anniversary, but the most interesting for us was an NPR interview with [Walter Brown], one of the engineers who helped build the device. Apparently nuclear weapons testing in space the day before the launch caused the initial tests to fail.

Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The birth of satellite communications”

FTA dish used to receive L-band amateur radio

[David Prutchi] has an FTA (free-to-air) satellite dish. This means he can tune and watch freely available satellite television feeds. But this sounds much better than it actually is. There isn’t much that’s broadcasted unecrypted from satellites with the exception of a collection of religious channels. But he still uses the dish by using the FTA satellites to calibrate the alignment, then repositioning it to receive L-Band radio transmissions with his own add-on hardware. In the image above it’s the spiral of wire attached to the dish’s collector.

The satellite transmissions are picked up on the KU-band by an aftermarket horn that [David] purchased for this purpose. To add his own helix receiver he cut a square mounting plate that fits around the horn. This plate serves as a reflector and ground plane, and also hosts the helix connector which picks up the L-band transmissions. He had to be creative with routing the first few inches of the helix but it looks like he manages to get some pretty good performance out of the hardware.

[via Hacked Gadgets]

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.