Spend your weekend contributing to the exploration of space

Earlier today we posted a link to a tournament NASA is holding. NASA is trying to crowdsource the organization of terabytes of data collected from missions all over the solar system. A few Hackaday readers wrote in (thanks [grbgout] and all the others) to tell us there is an International Space Apps Challenge going on this weekend to crowdsourse solutions to the problems of space flight.

The challenge is the product of a partnership between NASA, the National Science Foundation, the UK  and Japanese Space Agencies and a host of other organizations like GitHub, Yahoo Developer Network, and even a few hackerspaces. The idea behind the challenge is simple: spend a weekend solving software, hardware, and science challenges to improve the state of space sciences.

There are a lot of interesting projects like programming an interface to a NASA mission simulator, figure out how to print 3D objects in space, and even develop the hardware and software for an underwater ROV.

Aside from the fancy software and hardware challenges, there are also some very interesting data visualization problems, like clearly explaining the fact that space is mostly empty. If you can figure out how to tell people they aren’t the center of the Universe, take a shot at it – there’s probably a Nobel in Literature in it for you.

Right now there are dozens of locations on all seven continents and in Low Earth Orbit (McMurdo Station in Antartica and the ISS) that will have people contributing to these projects. Of course you’re free to work out of the home and help scientists, engineers, and researchers reach to the stars.

Space; it’s a junkyard until the Swiss get their way

The Swiss plan to clean up the near-space environment. They just announced a debris removal device which they plan to launch in three to five years. The first goal of the program is to scoop up two satellites. Both of them are Swiss owned, but there’s something very James Bond like that pops into our heads when we hear that.

We’re sure you already know there’s a space junk issue in orbit. But did you know that NASA tracks a half-million pieces of orbital debris? Cleaning that up does sound like a good thing. The plan is to detect the offending item, match its trajectory, grab it somehow (which includes halting any spinning that it’s doing), then encapsulating everything for an eventual re-entry. Looks like they plan on the whole robot burning up along with the junk during that final stage.

We keep hearing about ways robots will clean up the messes we make. Hopefully we’ll see these in action at some point.

[via Reddit]

Space camera streams data during flight

Take the risk of not recovering your hardware out of a near-space camera launch by streaming the data during flight. [Tim Zaman] is part of a team that developed the rig seen above. It sent 119 image back during the recent balloon launch. This included transmissions from as high as 36 kilometers.

The main hardware included a BeagleBoard with connected Webcam housed in a Styrofoam cooler for thermal protection. Pair that with a GPS module for location tracking, and a GPRS module for data transmission and you’re in business.

But that’s not all that went up. The team built a backup hardware module in case the primary failed. This one also had a GPS and GPRS radio, but was driven by an Arduino.

The radio connection made it easy to recover the hardware. GPS data led the team directly to the landing site. The package came to rest on the roof of a building, but we guess that’s more convenient than getting snagged at the top of a huge tree.

Don’t miss the hardware detail video that we’ve embedded after the break.

[Read more...]

Photographing near-space objects we’re not supposed to know about

[Thierry Legault] doesn’t just look up at the stars, the uses a motorized telescope base of his own making to track and photograph secret objects orbiting the earth. What do we mean by ‘secret objects’? Spy stuff, of course.

Last month he captured some video of the X-37B, an unmanned and secretive reusable spacecraft (read: spy shuttle) which is operated by the United States Air Force. That was back on the 21st of May but a few nights later he also saw the USA-186, an optical reconnaissance (Keyhole) satellite.

After trying to cope with manual tracking using the RC control seen above [Thierry] set out to upgrade his equipment. He ended up designing his own software package (and then released it as freeware) to automatically track the trajectory of orbiting objects. He uses a second telescope to locate the object, then dials it in with the bigger telescope. Once in frame, the software takes over.

[Wired via Dangerous Prototypes]

A ride into space, but nothing fancy

[Luke Geissbuhler] wanted to send something into space, a fun project his kids could get in on too. Instead of sending up a suite of electronic components they went with consumer electronics. The key element, an HD camera to record the event, is protected by a styrofoam shell and soft foam padding. To help ensure that the device was recovered an iPhone also made the trip, running a GPS tracking program that continuously updated the package’s location. To combat the ill-effects of severe cold some chemical hand warming packs also joined the flight.

As you can see after the break, it was a success. The camera documented an incredible ride, with a balloon rupture at 19 miles above the earth (that must be a calculated height as there’s no altimeter in the package). The pod came down gently thanks to a parachute and was recovered just 30 miles from where it launched.

[Read more...]

Profit-less space program launches in one week

The Copenhagen Suborbitals are now within one week of their first launch. We looked in on the non-profit and non-secretive space program back in March but we had no idea the group had a frickin’ submarine at their disposal. What you see above is the rocket on its floating launch platform. The submarine will haul it out into the Baltic Sea for launch. There’s not much room in the craft for an astronaut but it will be a horrifying an exhilarating flight. According to the spacecraft page the human payload will be in a half-sitting, half-standing position looking up through an acrylic nose dome. This first launch will not be manned, but once they get through the tests this will be one crazy ride.

Giant insect rover works for us

ATHLETE, or the All Terrain Hex-Limbed Extra Terrestrial Explorer, looks pretty cool. This Hexapod is actually a pair of 3 legged robots that have joined together to haul some cargo off the top of stationary module. While this time-lapse shows it going pretty slowly, you get a hint at the end that it isn’t required to be quite so lethargic. One of the really cool things about this robot is the fact that the legs are multi purpose. It has a “tool belt” from which it can pull different attachments for its feet. There are many more videos available on their site.

[via BotJunkie]