Retrotechtacular: Breaking Atoms to Break the Ice

retrotechtacular-lenin-nuclear-icebreaker

This documentary from 1959 gives a satisfyingly thorough look inside a nuclear powered icebreaking ship called Lenin. This actually set a couple of world’s-firsts: it was the first nuclear powered surface vessel and the first civilian vessel to be powered thusly.

The ship was built to clear shipping paths to the northern ports of Russia. Testing of both ice and models of the ship design point to the ability to break ice layers that are two meters thick. This requires a lot of power as ice-breakers generally use their hull shape and gravity to break the ice by driving up onto it to bend the ice to the breaking point. The Lenin achieved this power using its nuclear reactor to heat steam which drove electric generators. The energy produced drove three screws to power the vessel.

Of course this was back in the day when control panels were substantial, which you can get a peek at starting half-way through the twenty-minute film. This includes a demonstration of the ship’s network of radiation sensors which alert the control room, and sound a local alarm when they are triggered. During it’s 30-year operational life the vessel had a couple of accidents stemming from refueling operations. You can find more on that over at the Wikipedia page, but stick with us after the jump to see the vintage reel.

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Stopping a hackerspace from rusting away

steel

The illutron hackerspace in Copenhagen makes their home on a barge sitting in port. Not only is this awesome, but the members of the hackerspace also worry about corrosion to their beloved fablab. In an effort to ally some fears about rust slowly eating through the hull, [Dzl] has rigged up a cathodic protection system for their hull, essentially preserving their barge at the expense of a few old steel rails.

Cathodic protection systems are able to protect the steel of a ship’s hull by offering up a sacrificial anode made of aluminum or zinc. This can be done by either attaching a sacrificial anode directly to the hull, or with a more complex system that connects both the cathode (the ship) and the anode (an engine block) to a DC power source.

[Dzl] is converting mains voltage down to 12 VDC, then further lowering the voltage with an Arduino-controlled buck converter. The control panel allows for adjustments in the voltage, as well as a nice uptime meter to make sure it’s running.

The results are fairly impressive; in the above pic, the right piece of steel was electrically connected to the barge’s hull, while the left piece was free to rust in the North Sea. That’s only two days worth of corrosion there.

Ship building in Volgograd

I don’t know if you’d consider this handmade. I don’t know if you’d consider this skilled. I do know you should stop thinking about those things and just watch this stunning video. Molten metal, grungy environments, and hard work are presented here in a fascinating look at how ships are built in Volgograd.

Tracking ships using software-defined radio (SDR)

tracking-ships-using-sdr

When we first started hearing about software-defined radio hacks (which often use USB dongles that ring it at under $20) we didn’t fully grasp the scope of that flexibility. But now we’ve seen several real-life examples that drive the concept home. For instance, did you know that SDR can be used to track ships? Ships large and small are required by may countries to use an Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder. The protocol was originally developed to prevent collisions on large ships, but when the cost of the hardware became affordable the system was also brought to smaller vessels.

[Carl] wrote in to share his project (which is linked above). Just like the police scanner project from April this makes use of RTL-SDR in the form of a TV tuner dongle. He uses the SDRSharp software along with a Yagi-UDA. The captured data is then decoded and plotted on a map using ShipPlotter.

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