The SmallSat Launcher War

Over the last decade or so the definition of what a ‘small satellite’ is has ballooned beyond the original cubesat design specification to satellites of 50 or 100 kg. Today a ‘smallsat’ is defined far more around the cost, and sometimes the technologies used, than the size and shape of the box that goes into orbit.

There are now more than fifty companies working on launch vehicles dedicated to lifting these small satellites into orbit, and while nobody really expects all of those to survive the next few years, it’s going to be an interesting time in the launcher market. Because I have a sneaking suspicion that Jeff Bezos’ statement that “there’s not that much interesting about cubesats” may well turn out to be the twenty first century’s “nobody needs more than 640kb,” and it’s possible that everybody is wrong about how many of the launcher companies will survive in the long term.

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Take A Look At The Hyperloop Competition Entries

If you are a follower of futuristic high-speed transport systems you’ll have had your fill of high-speed trains, you’ll mourn the passing of Concorde and be looking forward to future supersonic passenger aircraft. Unless you have a small fortune to pay for a spaceplane tourist flight at an unspecified time in the future, life is going to feel a little slow.

There is one spark of light in this relative gloom though, in the form of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop. A partially evacuated tube in which vehicles, or “pods” can accelerate to very high speeds. SpaceX may not be pursuing it themselves, but they’ve made it available for others and to promote it they are running a competition in which they have invited teams to submit pod designs. And as a significant number of teams have made it through the first round and are prepared to compete outside SpaceX’s headquarters, Business Insider have a look at all the teams and their prototype pods. Continue reading “Take A Look At The Hyperloop Competition Entries”

Working For Elon Musk

One of my favorite types of science fiction character is found in the books of Ben Bova; a business mogul who through brilliance, hard work, and the force of personality drives mankind to a whole new level in areas such as commercializing space, colonizing the stars, battling governments, and thwarting competitors.

It is possible to name a few such characters in real life — influencing the electricity industry was George Westinghouse, automobiles was Henry Ford, and more recently Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. With Elon’s drive we may all finally be driving electric cars within 20 years and spreading out into space with his cheap rockets. Due to the latter he may be the closest yet to one of Bova’s characters.

So what’s it like to work for Elon Musk at Tesla or SpaceX? Most of us have read articles about him, and much that he’s written himself, as well as watched some of his many interviews and talks. But to get some idea of what it’s like to work for him I greatly enjoyed the insight from Ashlee Vance’s biography Elon Musk – Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. To write it Vance had many interviews with Musk as well as those who work with him or have in the past. Through this we get a fascinating look at a contemporary mogul of engineering.

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After The Prize: SatNOGS Builds Satellites

When Hackaday announced winners of the 2014 Hackaday Prize, a bunch of hackers from Greece picked up the grand prize of $196,418 for their SatNOGS project – a global network of satellite ground stations for amateur Cubesats.

upsat-integration-test-1The design demonstrated an affordable ground station which can be built at low-cost and linked into a public network to leverage the benefits of satellites, even amateur ones. The social implications of this project were far-reaching. Beyond the SatNOGS network itself, this initiative was a template for building other connected device networks that make shared (and open) data a benefit for all. To further the cause, the SatNOGS team set up the Libre Space Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation with a mission to promote, advance and develop Libre (free and open source) technologies and knowledge for space.

Now, the foundation, in collaboration with the University of Patras, is ready to launch UPSat – a 2U, Open Source Greek Cubesat format satellite as part of the QB50 international thermosphere research mission. The design aims to be maximally DIY, designing most subsystems from scratch. While expensive for the first prototype, they hope that documenting the open source hardware and software will help kickstart an ecosystem for space engineering and technologies. As of now, the satellite is fully built and undergoing testing and integration. In the middle of July, it will be delivered to Nanoracks to be carried on a SpaceX Dragon capsule and then launched from the International Space Station.

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It’s Time For Direct Metal 3D-Printing

It’s tough times for 3D-printing. Stratasys got burned on Makerbot, trustful backers got burned on the Peachy Printer meltdown, I burned my finger on a brand new hotend just yesterday, and that’s only the more recent events. In recent years more than a few startups embarked on the challenge of developing a piece of 3D printing technology that would make a difference. More colors, more materials, more reliable, bigger, faster, cheaper, easier to use. There was even a metal 3D printing startup, MatterFab, which pulled off a functional prototype of a low-cost metal-powder-laser-melting 3D printer, securing $13M in funding, and disappearing silently, poof.

This is just the children’s corner of the mall, and the grown-ups have really just begun pulling out their titanium credit cards. General Electric is on track to introduce 3D printed, FAA-approved fuel nozzles into its aircraft jet engines, Airbus is heading for 3D-printed, lightweight components and interior, and SpaceX has already sent rockets with 3D printed Main Oxidizer Valves (MOV) into orbit, aiming to make the SuperDraco the first fully 3D printed rocket engine. Direct metal 3D printing is transitioning from the experimental research phase to production, and it’s interesting to see how and why large industries, well, disrupt themselves.

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Hackaday Links: March 28, 2016

[Tom] sent this in to be filed under the ‘not a hack’ category, but it’s actually very interesting. It’s the User’s Guide for the Falcon 9 rocket. It includes all the data necessary to put your payload on a Falcon 9 and send it into space. It’s a freakin’ datasheet for a rocket.

A year ago in Japan (and last week worldwide), Nintendo released Pokkén Tournament, a Pokemon fighting game. This game has a new controller, the Pokkén Tournament Pro Pad. There were a few cost-cutting measures in the production of this game pad, and it looks like this controller was supposed to have force feedback and LEDs. If any Pokemon fans want to take this controller apart and install some LEDs and motors just to see what happens, there’s a Hackaday write up in it for you.

There are a lot of options for slicing 3D objects for filament-based 3D printers. Cura, Slic3r, and MatterControl are easily capable of handing all the slicing needs you’ll ever have for a filament 3D printer. For sterolithography (resin) printers, the options for slicing are limited. [skarab] just put together a new slicer for SLA that runs entirely in JavaScript. If anyone wants to turn a Raspi or BeagleBone into a network controller for a resin printer, here’s your starting point. [skarab] will be working on smoothieboard integration soon.

The STM32F4 is an extremely capable ARM microcontroller. It can do VGA at relatively high resolutions, emulate a Game Boy cartridge, and can serve as the engine control unit in a 1996 Ford Aspire. There’s a lot of computing power here, but only one true litmus test: the STM32F4 can run Doom. [floppes] built this implementation of Doom on the STM32F429 Discovery board to run off of an external USB memory stick. The frame rate is at least as good as what it was back in 1993.

The Oculus Rift has just come to pass, but one lucky consumer got his early. The first person to preorder the Rift, [Ross Martin] of Anchorage, Alaska, got his facehugger directly from [Palmer Luckey] in a PR stunt on Saturday afternoon. Guess what [Ross] is doing with his Rift?


Hacklet 68 – Rocket Projects

There’s just something amazing about counting down and watching a rocket lift off the pad, soaring high into the sky. The excitement is multiplied when the rocket is one you built yourself. Amateur rocketry has been inspiring hackers and engineers for centuries. In the USA, modern amateur rocketry gained popularity after Sputnik-1, continuing on through the space race. Much of this history captured in the book Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, which is well worth a read. This week’s Hacklet is dedicated to some of the best rocketry projects on!

rocket1We start with [Sagar] and Guided Rocket. [Sagar] is building a rocket with a self stabilization system. Many projects use articulated fins for this, and [Sagar] plans to add fins in the future, but he’s starting with an articulated rocket motor. The motor sits inside a gimbal, which allows it to tilt about 10 degrees in any direction. An Arduino is the brain of the system. The Arduino gathers data from a MPU6050 IMU sensor, then determines how to steer the rocket motor. Steering is accomplished with a couple of micro servos connected to the gimbal.


rocket2Next up is [Howie], with Homemade rocket engine. [Howie] is cooking some seriously hot stuff on his stove. Rocket candy to be precise, similar to the fuel [Homer Hickam] wrote about in Rocket Boys. This solid fuel is so named because one of the main ingredients is sugar. The other main ingredient is stump remover, or potassium nitrate. Everything is mixed and heated together on a skillet for about 30 minutes, then pushed into rocket engine tubes. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t try this one at home unless you’re really sure of what you’re doing!


rocket3Everyone wants to know how high their rocket went. [Vcazan] created AltiRocket to record acceleration and altitude data. AltiRocket also transmits the data to the ground via a radio link. An Arduino Nano keeps things light. A BMP108 barometric sensor captures pressure data, which is easily converted into altitude. Launch forces are captured by a 3 Axis accelerometer. A tiny LiPo battery provides power. The entire system is only 23 grams! [Vcazan] has already flown AltiRocket, collecting data from several flights earlier this summer.


rocket4Finally we have [J. M. Hopkins] who is working on a huge project to do just about everything! High Power Experimental Rocket Platform includes designing and building everything from the rocket fuel, to the rocket itself, to a GPS guided parachute recovery system. [J. M. Hopkins] has already accomplished two of his goals, making his own fuel and testing nozzle designs. The electronics package to be included on the rocket is impressive, including a GPS, IMU, barometric, and temperature sensors. Data will be sent back to the ground by a 70cm transceiver. The ground station will use a high gain human-guided yagi tracking antenna with a low noise amplifier to pick up the signal.

If you want more rocketry goodness, check out our brand new rocket project list! Rocket projects move fast, if I missed yours as it streaked by, don’t hesitate to drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!