Hacklet 34 – Satellite Projects

Space. The final frontier. Every tinkerer, hacker, and maker has dreamed of flying out of Earth’s atmosphere and into the heavens. Last year one hard-working team got a chance to fly a member to space by winning the Hackaday prize. For the rest of us, we can still experience some of that excitement by contacting satellites in orbit, or even sending a bit of our own hardware into space. This week’s Hacklet focuses on the best satellite projects on Hackaday.io!

basicSatWe start with [movax] and Your satellite devkit and launch. Chipsat is a tiny satellite which runs BASIC code. Yes, BASIC in space! Chipsats will be stacked into a launcher and sent off into space in groups. The idea is to eventually have them launched from the International Space Station. Power is provided by a small solar cell which charges up a pair of super capacitors. When the capacitors are charged, the satellite will run for a few seconds. Connectivity with the ground is via a 433 MHz link. Chipsat doesn’t just float in space, three coils give it the ability to control its attitude and rotation. Chipsat will sense the space around it with a magnetometer and a light sensor.



No satellite-themed Hacklet would be complete without [Pierros Papadeas] and his team’s work on SatNOGS – Global Network of Ground Stations. SatNOGS aims to create a global network of connected satellite ground stations. Think of it as a grass-roots version of NASA’s deep space network for satellites in earth orbit. This is more than just a great idea, as SatNOGS won the 2014 Hackaday Prize. You can check out our coverage of the project back in November, 2014. Since then, the SatNOGS team has been busy! They’ve just deployed the first SatNOGS V2 system above their hackerspace in Athens, Greece.

trsiNext up is TRSI PocketQub Satellite, another project by [movax]. TRSI is a satellite that sends data via images which can be viewed with a simple RTL-SDR stick using Hellschreiber mode. Hell mode means that images can be directly viewed in the waterfall display of whichever SDR application is running the receiver. Numbers or entire images snapped with TRSI’s cell phone style camera module can be encoded and displayed. Power is of course provided by solar cells, and the communications link will be on the coordinated 433 MHz band. The original TRSI hardware has actually morphed into a deployment machine for ChipSat, [morvax’s] other satellite project. He’s put the main TRSI program on hold until after the ChipSat campaign is complete.

pocketquRounding out our satellite special is [OzQube] with his project QubeCast Max. QubeCast is the first Australian version of the PocketQube PQ60 satellite form factor. After watching the success of $50Sat project, [OzQube] wanted to design a satellite of his own. Since he wanted to add sensors and send more data back to Earth than previous efforts, he needed a higher data rate than the current crop of satellites. This meant going to a high-powered radio. To achieve this, he’s using a  NiceRF RF4463F30 radio module. The module is based upon a Silicon Labs Si4463 RF ISM band chip, coupled with a power amplifier. The module outputs 1 watt, which is quite a bit of power for a tiny satellite!

Want more satellite goodness? Check out Hackaday.io’s freshly minted Satellite List.

The countdown is almost at 0, so that’s just about all the time we have for this episode of the Hacklet. See you next week.  Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Open Sourcing Satellite Telemetry

Launched in 1978, the International Sun/Earth Explorer 3 was sent on a mission to explore the Earth’s interaction with the sun. Several years later, the spacecraft changed its name to the International Cometary Explorer, sent off to explore orbiting ice balls, and return to Earth earlier this year. Talking to that spacecraft was a huge undertaking, with crowdfunding campaigns, excursions to Arecibo, and mountains of work from a team spanning the globe. Commanding the thrusters onboard the satellite didn’t work – there was no pressure in the tanks – but still the ICE mission continues, and one of the lead radio gurus on the team has put up the telemetry parser/display crafted for the reboot project up on Github.

The guy behind the backend for the ICE/ISEE reboot project should be well-known to Hackaday readers. He’s the guy who came up with a Software Defined Radio source block for a cheap USB TV tuner, waking everyone up to the SDR game. He’s also played air traffic controller by sitting out near an airport with a laptop, and has given talks at Black Hat and DEFCON.

The ICE/ISEE-3 telemetry parser/display allows anyone to listen to the recorded telemetry frames from the satellite, check out what was actually going on, and learn how to communicate with a device without a computer that’s rapidly approaching from millions of miles away. He’s even put some telemetry recordings up on the Internet to practice.

Although the ICE/ISEE-3 reboot project will have to wait another decade or two until the probe makes its way back to our neck of the woods, [Balint] is taking it in stride an organizing a few Software Defined Radio meetups in the San Fransisco area. He just had the first meetup (Video below) where talks ranging from creating a stereo FM transmitter in GNU radio, a visual introduction to DSP for SDR and SETI signals from the Allen Telescope Array were discussed. There will be another meetup in a few weeks at Noisbridge, with some very cool subjects on the roster.

Continue reading “Open Sourcing Satellite Telemetry”

Racing telemetry on a cockpit view


[Martin] has a Lotus Elise and access to a track. Sounds like fun, huh? The only problem is that the dashcam videos he makes are a little bit boring. Sure, they show him flying around the track, but without some sort of data it’s really hard to improve his driving skills. After thinking about it for a while, [Martin] decided he could use his Raspberry Pi and camera module to record videos from the dashboard of his car, and overlay engine data such as RPM, throttle, and speed right on top of the video.

Capturing video is the easy part of this build – [Martin] just connected his Raspi camera module and used the standard raspivid capture utility. Overlaying data on this captured video was a bit harder, though.

[Martin] had previously written about using the Raspi to read OBD-II data into his Raspi. Combine this with a Python script to write subtitles for his movies, and he’s off to the races, with a video and data replay of every move on the track.

The resulting movie and subtitle files can be reencoded to an HD movie. Reencoding a 13 minute HD video took 9 hours on the Raspi. We’d suggest doing this with a more powerful compy, but at least [Martin] has a great solution to fix his slightly uninformative track videos.

Fancy telemetry control display for a quadcopter

Most of the quadcopter projects that we’ve seen use a joystick-based control system. This lets you fly the thing around like any RC vehicle. But [Saulius] is augmenting his control system by pulling and displaying telemetry data. It doesn’t really change the way the vehicle is controller, but it lets the craft roam much further away because the operator can watch the computer screen and forego the need for the quadcopter to be within sight.

A Carambola board (also used in this weather station project) is used to provide connectivity. This is WiFi based, which helps us understand the range it can travel. The quadcopter carries a camera, which is shown in the lower right box of the image above. There is also an artificial horizon, and feedback dials which display the telemetry data.

It looks like there’s a satellite view in between those two dashboard widgets. We don’t see anything coming up right now, but it’s possible this is meant to overlay a virtual marker for the aircraft’s position based on GPS data. That last part is really just conjecture though. Catch the 80-second test flight after the jump.

Continue reading “Fancy telemetry control display for a quadcopter”

You’re invited to sift through 100 Terabytes of data for NASA

Most people we know had at least one phase where they dreamt of working for NASA. That dream may have faded for many of us, but it could suddenly be a real possibility again with a tournament NASA is holding. The goal is to sift through all of the data that they have collected; roughly 100 terabytes of pictures, telemetry data, top secret pictures of martian yeti, and models. All of this information was gathered over different missions, on different instruments, in different formats. It is a mess. Take this data and make it easily accessible to both scientists, and non-scientists. They want their information to be useful and compelling to the world.

The grand prize for your fantastic final result is $10,000 and the title of “Space Coder of the Galaxy 2012″.  I know I’d settle for a week at space camp.

Note: I just noticed the following bit:

And one talented high school winner will receive a special VIP invitation from NASA

I’m not sure if that means this is for high schoolers only, but I’m pretty sure it means a lot of them won’t identify with that space camp link above.

DIY RC sensor board


Along with hobby electronics, flying RC planes is one of [Diederich’s] favorite hobbies. When out in the field, he prefers to use an Aurora 9 radio controller, and while the remote is great, he was a bit disappointed in Hitec’s telemetry sensor lineup. He says that the sensors are pretty decent, though limited, and he was positive he could build a better telemetry solution.

His sensor board is completely open source, and comes with a long list of features. First and foremost, it emulates all of the messages that can be sent to the radio controller by Hitec’s off the shelf models, making it a simple drop-in replacement. He uses an ATMega8L microcontroller to run the show, including all sorts of input pins and connectors to support GPS as well as voltage and current monitoring.

He has made a DIY kit available for purchase online, but all of the sensor’s schematics and a BOM are available for free, should you desire to roll your own.

We love seeing DIYers show up manufacturers in this way, especially when they share the goods with their fellow hobbyists. Nice job!

Model rocket radio telemetry


[Ken] sent us his Instructable in which he used radio telemetry to monitor the status of his air-powered model rocket through a series of launches. His setup is centered around an Arduino IDE-compatible board that looks to be about the size of a Boarduino, but has the benefit of an embedded 915 MHz radio module. The vendor he used also sells a good handful of add-on modules which he used for his in-flight recording, including a barometric pressure monitor and a 3-axis accelerometer. During flight, the rocket constantly sends data to a base station, provided it stays within radio operating range.

For is initial tests, [Ken] launched his rocket four times, getting usable data on half of them. He found out some interesting things about his model rocket, including the fact that it creates a maximum launch force of 60 Gs. He has plans to revise his setup in the future, such as lightening the battery load as well as adding a high-G analog sensor for recording the forces at take off. This kit, or a more reasonably priced clone, would make for a great addition to any rocket buff’s inventory.